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August 13, 2020

Saint Louis Zoo Emerson Children's Zoo To Close

Today, the Saint Louis Zoo announced the forthcoming closure of the Emerson Children's Zoo. While the Zoo works to reimagine the 3.5-acre family and children's area, a temporary dinosaur exhibit will open in its place in spring 2021.

The Children's Zoo will remain open with free admission through the end of October.

"For 51 years, the Saint Louis Zoo has offered a special area for its youngest visitors to connect with nature," said Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown President and CEO, Saint Louis Zoo. "Since 1969, the goal of the Children's Zoo never changed — to provide dynamic experiences for all children that will inspire a love of animals and learning. The mission of connecting families and children with animals will carry forward in the planning for this new area."

Since the Zoo reopened to the public following an 80-day closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Children's Zoo has operated with many additional safety measures in place that greatly limit the guest experience. The animal shows, indoor building, water bubblers and other interactive areas, as well as the goat yard, farm-play area and playground remain closed for precautionary measures. Keeper and docent animal handling for one-on-one guest connections have been eliminated during this time for human and animal safety.

"It was a heart-wrenching decision to close the Children's Zoo, however, safety is our highest priority," said Dr. Bonner. "The Children's Zoo was designed for high-touch and interactive experiences, which is not conducive to a COVID or post-COVID environment."

Animals residing at the Children's Zoo are in the process of being relocated to other parts of the Zoo or moved to other facilities. The Tasmanian devils will remain at their current habitat in the Children's Zoo area. Currently, the following animals can be seen in the Children's Zoo, although no contact is allowed: American crow, burro, Cotswold sheep, domestic goat, alpaca, pot-bellied pig, North American river otter, Tasmanian devil, and various reptiles.

The temporary exhibit that will occupy the current Children's Zoo area for the next couple of years is called Dinoroarus.

"We had a similar exhibit like this back in 2008, but this time, we have much more space to include many more life-size animatronic dinosaurs in a one-of-a-kind walk-through experience," said Dr. Bonner. "Dinoroarus will give us a chance to talk about difficult topics like extinction and how some predecessors of dinosaurs, like turtles and crocodiles, are still with us, as well as how some descendants of dinosaurs, like birds, still grace our lives."

Plans are underway for the temporary exhibit, which will include 15 different groupings of dinosaurs – colorful prehistoric creatures that move realistically – roaring and spitting or placidly munching on the lush vegetation of the area that is currently the Children's Zoo. Dinoroarus will allow visitors to take a walk into the past. From a life-size brontosaurus to an apex predator like the 12-foot-tall tyrannosaurus rex, visitors will see a wide range of dinosaurs covering a vast span of geological time. And, of course, no Zoo dinosaur exhibit would be complete without a host of living birds – the modern descendants of these ancient and fascinating animals.

Admission costs and other details for Dinoroarus will be available in the future. Membership benefits will apply to Dinoroarus admission just as they currently do for the Children's Zoo.

History of the Children's Zoo

Charles H. Yalem Children's Zoo opened in 1969

On June 14, 1969, the first Children's Zoo opened at the Saint Louis Zoo. It was the vision of Marlin Perkins, who served as Zoo director from 1962 to 1970, and other zoo leaders, to connect children to animals through contact in a space that offered a sense of adventure. The attraction was then called the Charles H. Yalem Children's Zoo, after the philanthropist's generous donation of $250,000. Prior to this opening, there was a small, seasonal children's area in the Zoo, but this new Children's Zoo was much grander, with woods, caves and walk-through tunnels. Some of the animals included goats to pet in the goat yard, small mammals such as ocelots, bobcats, Arctic foxes, and exotic animals like baby elephants and pythons. A highlight of the Children's Zoo at the time was a nursery for baby animals, which was viewable to the public. If a mother was having trouble caring for her infant, keepers would look after the baby in the nursery. While this was standard for that time, today, every effort focuses on a more natural approach where a baby would remain closer to their mother and family group, even if supplemental feedings need to be given by a caretaker. The nursery closed in the mid-1990s.

Emerson Children's Zoo opened in 1998

In 1997, the Children's Zoo temporarily closed for expansion work. That same year, Emerson Electric came forward with a $3 million gift to the Zoo. On May 16, 1998, the new, 3.5-acre Emerson Children's Zoo opened in the same location as the original attraction with the same focus on bringing children and animals close together. The Children's Zoo today is home to nearly 300 animals, including the endangered Matschie's tree kangaroo, meerkats, fennec foxes, Tasmanian devils, Hoffmann's two-toed sloth, river otters and naked mole rats. Prior to COVID-19, visitors could brush goats and pet rabbits and guinea pigs, meet reptiles and amphibians, birds and many more. Kids could explore nature on the playgrounds, which include an acrylic slide through the otter pool, climbing structures, a farm-play area and more. During most summers, the Children's Zoo would feature educational presentations with the animals displaying natural behaviors on a small, intimate family stage.