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 (still here today), 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, a more hands-off, natural approach is considered most appropriate for the animals. 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. Visitors can brush goats and pet rabbits and guinea pigs, meet reptiles and amphibians, birds and many more. Kids can explore nature on the playgrounds, which include an acrylic slide through the otter pool, climbing structures, a farm-play area and more. During summer, animals perform natural behaviors on stage, with keepers using positive reinforcement in their training.