A Grrrrrrrrrrreat Time in Connecticut

Bridgeport's Beardsley Zoo

Viktor, an Amur (Siberian) tiger, has returned home to Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and the Zoo is inviting visitors to help welcome him back to Bridgeport. Also new on exhibit are two Maned wolves, the Zoo’s rare Chacoan peccary piglet, and a baby Pronghorn. Viktor was one of three cubs born in 2005 at Connecticut’s only Zoo and was transferred to the Detroit Zoo in 2008. He will be ready to greet his East coast fans after Christmas.

Amur tigers range from nine to 12 feet long and grow to be 400-500 pounds. These enormous animals have pale, yellow-orange fur that shades to a creamy white and pale blackish stripes with a distinctive pattern on the face as unique as a fingerprint. These big cats may be found in a variety of habitats including grasslands and evergreen forests and their diet consists mostly of deer, wild boar, elk, lynx, bear, fish, hares, and birds. Their long fur coat, about one to three inches long, protects them in temperatures to 50 degrees below zero. Booskin, the most recent male tiger at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, was moved to Racine Zoo in Wisconsin to make room for Viktor. The Zoo hopes Viktor will successfully mate with Naka, their female Amur tiger.

Also new to the Zoo are two Maned wolves. The two female wolves are sisters, born in North Carolina. TheManed wolves have access to a heated enclosure, as they are not fans of Connecticut’s cold winters. Often mistaken for foxes, the Maned wolf ranges from four to four and a half feet in length, weighing in around 44-50 pounds. They like to eat rodents and other small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and will go for the occasional fruit and vegetables at times.

The transfer of the tiger and the wolves is coordinated through the Assocation of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan Program. Animals are regularly transferred between AZA accredited zoos in order to help manage specific, and typically threatened or endangered, species populations.

The Beardsley Zoo, located in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is the only zoo in the state of Connecticut. It includes one of few carousels in the state.

In 1878, James W. Beardsley, a wealthy farmer, donated over 100 acres of hilly, rural land bordering on the Pequonnock River with a distant view of Long Island Sound to the city of Bridgeport on condition that “the city shall accept and keep the same forever as a public park….” In 1881, the city contracted Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for creating New York City’s Central Park, to create a design for Beardsley Park. Olmsted described the existing land as “pastoral, sylvan and idyllic” and, in 1884, delivered his plan for a simple, rural park for the residents to enjoy: “[The land donated by Beardsley] is thoroughly rural and just such a countryside as a family of good taste and healthy nature would resort to, if seeking a few hours’ complete relief from scenes associated with the wear and tear of ordinary town life…. It is a better picnic ground than any possessed by the city of New York, after spending twenty million on parks…. The object of any public outlay upon it should be to develop and bring out these distinctive local advantages, and make them available to extensive use in the future by large numbers of people.”

Fredrick Law Olmsted was the principal architect of the site. Architect Joseph W. Northrup designed Island Bridge, a bridge to an island in the park. In 1909, the city erected a statue created by Charles Henry Niehaus in honor of Beardsley at the park’s Noble Avenue entrance. Beardsley Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

The city of Bridgeport was also home to Phineas T. Barnum and his world famous circus. At the time of the park’s creation, Barnum exercised his animals through the streets of Bridgeport, and people gathered in Beardsley Park to see zebras and camels walking by.

In 1920, Bridgeport Parks Commissioner Wesley Hayes began a campaign to create a city zoo within the park. He requested that the citizens of Bridgeport contribute animals to start the zoo. In the first year there were eighteen exotic birds donated. As of 1927, the zoo had acquired a variety of exotic animals, including a camel donated by the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

In 1997, the Connecticut Zoological Society, a nonprofit support group for the zoo, purchased the zoo from the city. The society continues to run the zoo as a private, nonprofit institution with assistance from the state of Connecticut and the city of Bridgeport.

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is closer than you think and is open daily from 9 am – 4 pm. Adult admission (ages 12 & older) is $12, children (ages 3 -11) and senior admission (62 and older) is just $10, and children under 3 years old are free. Zoo members are also admitted free. Parking at the Zoo is free of charge. For information, call: (203) 394-6565. Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is located at 1875 Noble Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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