Two Worldwide Tourist Attractions Hail from the Bronx
Mary Prenon | December 2019
Two of the New York metro area’s biggest tourist attractions, standing almost side-by-side and covering more than 500 acres, could be considered as anomalies within the concrete jungle of New York City.
However, both the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden are wide open havens of land nestled along Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, beckoning millions of visitors each year.
From aardvarks to zebras and everything in between, the Bronx Zoo is home to more than 8,000 animals representing more than 700 species. Over two million people visit the Bronx Zoo each year, some from around the block and others from around the world.
Operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Bronx Zoo is more than 120 years old and is set on 265 acres of hardwood forest. It offers 20 different exhibits, four rides, special events and unique experiences. Some of the Zoo’s most popular exhibits include: Tiger Mountain, Himalayan Highlands, African Plains, Wild Asia, Congo Gorilla Forest, World of Reptiles and World of Birds.
Of course, every year during the Holiday season, the Zoo is most noted for its Holiday Lights event that includes a lantern safari, animated sculptures, ice carving demonstrations, carolers, costumed characters and train rides. Holiday Lights runs through January 5 (excluding Dec. 24 and 25) and from Dec. 20 to 31, visitors can enjoy an Ice Jubilee featuring an ice bar, ice throne, ice slide and an ice carving competition on Dec. 28.
“We are bringing an updated version of a beloved holiday tradition back to the Bronx Zoo for the first time since 2007,” said John F. Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs. “The LED technology will also allow us to be incredibly energy efficient. We believe our visitors will come away really enjoying this ‘green’ holiday experience!”
During the day hours, the Zoo offers a wealth of activities including sea lion and penguin feedings, camel rides, the Wild Asia Monorail, Zoo shuttle, or for those who might enjoy riding a giant praying mantis or dung beetle—the Bug Carousel.
There’s also the Children’s Zoo, which gives kids the chance to visit and pet animals, and a Nature Trek that’s actually a village in the trees with bridges and crawl-through tunnels. For the really adventurous types, there’s a human-sized bird nest literally offering bird’s eye views. Adults and children can share in Wild Encounters such as the Animal Ambassador Tour, Cheetah or Penguin Connections or the Wild Discovery Tour. And just so adults won’t feel left out, the Zoo also provides some special programs like an Evening with the Gorillas, Adult Overnight Camp and Early Birds, an early morning walk.
New events and animals are always part of daily life at the Zoo and just recently they debuted a pack of three-male dhole, a species of Asiatic wild dog, a new habitat adjacent to the Himalayan Highlands. The three dholes are siblings that were born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2016.
“We chose to renovate and repurpose the polar bear exhibit to create a dhole habitat that will give us the opportunity to educate and inspire our guests about an endangered species,” said Jim Breheny, WCS Executive Vice President and Director of the Bronx Zoo. “In addition to fostering an appreciation for the conservation needs of this species, this exhibit will highlight some of our work with dhole in the field.”
Breheny explained that dholes are foxlike in appearance and are carnivores native to portions of southern and central Asia. The Wildlife Conservation Society is also working in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia to protect dholes and their habitat
In addition, Bronx Zoo conservationists have saved, bred and reintroduced into the wild Tanzania’s Kihansi spray toads. The Zoo also played a crucial role on re-introducing American bison to the western plains. The Zoo’s conservation mission is ongoing across the globe, focusing on species facing the most danger including great apes, big cats, elephants, sharks and rays, marine mammals, turtles and many others.
Locally, the Zoo offers educational programs for school children, including Science Jump Start, which inspires more than 15,000 students from local schools to connect to science and conservation through free hands-on workshops.
The Bronx Zoo is open daily (except holidays) from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and if you can’t get enough of the animals in person, the Zoo is also the subject of “The Zoo,” a docu-series aired worldwide on Animal Planet.
Just across the boulevard lies the world-renowned New York Botanical Garden, often described as an iconic living museum, as well as a plant research and conservation organization. Founded in 1891, the Botanical Garden is one of the largest in the country, and is also a National Historic Landmark.
Not to be outdone by its neighbor, the Zoo, the Botanical Garden also celebrates the season with its Holiday Train Show, through Jan. 26. This year’s show includes more than 175 famous New York landmarks—the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center—all re-created from natural materials like birch bark and acorns. New replicas feature Central Park’s Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace, Dairy, Naumburg Bandshell and two pedestrian bridges.
Over 25 G-scale model trains and trolleys are on display along nearly a half-mile of track. Children will enjoy a visit from Thomas the Tank Engine, while kids of all ages can take in seasonal treats, crafts and carolers.
For the over 21 crowd, the Bar Car Nights are back on select Fridays and Saturdays, offering event viewings of the Train Show along with spiked hot chocolate or Holiday specialty cocktails. The Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-up shops also offers food.
Looking toward 2020, the Botanical Garden will begin a $17.7-million restoration of the 117-year-old glass dome of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
“The Haupt Conservatory is a jewel among glasshouses of the world, a Garden icon, and a gathering place for all of the communities we serve,” said Carrie Rebora Barratt, Ph.D., CEO & The William C. Steere Sr. President of The New York Botanical Garden. “By regularly restoring and upgrading our facilities, we aim to continually enhance the experience we offer to visitors.” The Conservatory’s dome houses the Palms of the World Gallery.
Also new for the New Year will be the “KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature” exhibition of work by celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, opening in May. “We are thrilled to mount this focused survey of the work of one of the most influential artists of our time,” added Barratt. The exhibition will be installed across the Garden’s 250 acres and in several of its historic buildings.
Returning for the 18th year in a row, will be the Garden’s famous Orchid Show from February 15 through April 19. The show will feature Jeff Leatham’s “Kaleidoscope”—brightly colored orchids, including rare specimens. “Color is the first and most important aspect of my work,” explained Leatham. “I want every gallery to be a different color experience for visitors; like looking into a kaleidoscope.”
Other year-round Garden highlights include: the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, Native Plant Garden, Forest, Rock Garden, Seasonal Walk, Wetland Trail, Azealia Garden, Herb Garden and Everett Children’s Adventure Garden.
An educational as well as horticultural venue, the Garden offers a myriad of classes from Floral Design to Gardening, Landscaping, Botanical Art, Candle Making, Tea Blending and much more.
For those considering a career in the field, the School of Professional Horticulture has been training the world’s leading horticulturists for more than 80 years. The school’s program is one of the few around the world combining academics with hands-on training.
Meantime, the Edible Academy features hands-on activities and innovative programs to help children, families, teachers and the general public learn about growing and preparing vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Like the Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden is a world leader in conservation, studying plants and helping to preserve the planet’s botanical diversity. Field research is conducted as close as New York City, and as far away as Myanmar, where scientists are reviewing the largest remaining tract of primary forest in Southeast Asia. In the Caribbean, they’re also documenting how people are using plant-based medicines.
The Garden is open year-round, Tuesday to Sunday and select Holiday Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.