Category: Zoos and Aquariums

Turtle Back Zoo                                                                         500 Northfield Avenue                                                            West Orange, NJ 07052

Turtle Back Zoo 500 Northfield Avenue West Orange, NJ 07052

Turtle Back Zoo

500 Northfield Avenue

West Orange, NJ 07052

(973) 731-5800

Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-3:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

The entrance to Turtle Back Zoo

I have been coming to the Turtle Back Zoo since I was in elementary school when we used to come here on field trips. I remember as a child having lunch on the lawn with my class and feeding the animals. That was back in the 1970’s with the old zoo set up. I had read that the zoo was falling apart by 1995 and they were ready to close it down. Like anything else, these zoos and parks need an update every few years to keep them relevant.

The directions on where to go when you enter the zoo

In 2000, as master plan was started in what direction the zoo wanted to go and in the next twenty years, I have seen the results of that hard work. You have many nicer displays, some still being too small for the respective animals, but a more realistic environment created for them. Back in 2016 when I joined the board of another zoo, I visited the Turtle Back Zoo for the first time since 1976. I visited a much improved and engaging zoo with nice displays and more diverse animals.

The new zoo set up has a good flow

On Groundhog’s Day, I went to see the small festival that the zoo was running that ended up being a ten-minute talk with an audience of the staff, volunteers and local politicians. I thought the zoo could do so much more to build on the reputation of this event. They introduced the new groundhog, Miss ‘Edwina of Essex’, who replaced ‘Essex Ed’. They said he had retired to Florida (I was not sure if he died or was somewhere else that day). Still, it was a cute little event with the groundhog trying to walk off and escape and a weather prediction of an early spring.

Groundhog’s Day Celebration 2023:

Miss ‘Edwina of Essex’ will be the star of Groundhog’s Day festivities in the future

The indoor set up for Groundhog’s Day at the Turtle Back Zoo in 2023

Read my blog on” Day “Two Hundred and Sixteen: Meeting ‘Edwina from Essex’ at the Turtleback Zoo-Happy Groundhog’s Day”:

Edwina and her trainer

After the event was over, I got a chance to walk around the zoo for an hour and even though it was the middle of the winter, there was a lot going on at the zoo. I spent the next hour or so walking the exhibits and watching the feedings. Being the middle of the winter with snow all around, a lot of the displays were closed, and the animals were inside as it was too cold for them.

The flowers that line the paths of the zoo from the old days

I started the tour of the zoo at the Flamingo pool. Watching these graceful animals communicate in their own language amongst themselves was interesting. The flamingos looked at us humans with amusement almost as if they were cracking a joke at our expense. They walked around their pool in groups, and it was fascinating to see how they moved in cliques. Some stayed at one part of the display while others moved around conversing about something.

The flamingos sleeping on this cold morning

The flamingos carried on a nice conversation at our expense

I visited the Petting Zoo that was pretty much closed, but the animals were out having their afternoon meal. I swear the rams and sheep looked at me like an alien from Outer Space. I have never gotten such an inquisitive look from another animal before. They all just stared at me and stopped eating. I guess they had not seen a visitor in a long time with the exception of the staff with the weather being what it has been.

The goats gave me the strangest looks that afternoon

The lions and giraffes were all inside warming up as this weather was not something they are used to, and I will have to revisit these exhibits in warmer weather. The Penguin House was a lot of fun to visit. The penguins are so engaging and had just finished their feeding time. They looked like they were ready to play.

The pelicans were swimming around in the Penguin tanks

Penguins’ dove and swam all around me, looking at me through the glass and trying to communicate with a lot of chirping. They looked so happy to see another person beside the trainers. As I followed them as they swam around the tank, they looked to me like they were trying to show me their swimming skills. I felt like they were trying to befriend me as some sort of strange new penguin. They are really used to seeing humans and find ways to engage with us.

The penguins at the Turtle Back Zoo are so friendly

I got to watch the sea lion feeding and watch the seals and otters swim around their tanks. The otters, which are an outdoor animal looked so cold that they swam for a bit after their feeding and then raced inside their burros to get out of the weather.

I stopped into to the Sea Turtle Recovery Building to see what the zoo was doing to help the turtles with their health and how the recovery was done. Separate tanks where the turtles are monitored for their therapy are on display and you can see the different stages they go through before being released into the wild.

The display sign by the tanks

The Sea Turtles in the rehabilitation center

The Big Cat Country exhibition had the poor cougars and mountain lions walking around in circles in the snow looking like they were not too sure what to do next. They did not look that happy to be outside, but I am sure being cooped up was not good for them either.

The Cheetah looked so cold that day

The Train Ride through the park was closed for the season as was the carousel and the restaurant. Those will have to be revisited in the Spring. I revisited the Reptile House one more time before I left for the day.

The giant turtle in the Reptile House

There is a variety of snakes, lizards and other wild creatures on display here and it the one exhibit where the animals seemed happy in their environment as they had plenty of room to move around and stretch. I swear that those snakes know that you are there. They just stare at you when you walk by looking like they are plotting to get out of the glass displays.

The giant lizard in the Reptile House

I will visit again in the Spring and talk about the comparisons with the weather and how it affects the animal’s behavior. They are no different than us with adapting to the change of the seasons. Many of these animals come from environments where this type of cold is not what they are used to and it is hard for them.

The Puff Fish in the Fish Tanks in the Touch Tank Display

There will be a lot more to see in the warm weather when I return.

The Bear Statute by the Bear Den

The History of Turtle Back Zoo:

(From the Zoo’s Website)

The Turtle Back Zoo came into conception in 1962 when the Essex County Parks Commission President, William Wachenfeld, awarded a $400,000 contract to Max Drill Inc. to build a 15.5-acre zoo in the South Mountain Reservation Park. It was designed to be a seasonable park for children.

The Turtle Back Zoo logo

Designer Tjark Reiss was hired to design the park and he created exhibits based on Hans Christian Anderson’s nursery rhyme themes and other children’s stories. There were to be farm animals and an antique train ride that took visitors on a mile round trip ride through the zoo’s surrounding woodlands.

The Turtle Back Zoo opened June 3rd, 1963, with a collection of 140 animals of 40 species. The zoo took its name from a rock formation located on the mountain side east of the zoo. The Lenape Indians called this formation Turtle Back Rock. The pattern on the rocks created by large basaltic crystals makes it appear that you are standing on the back of an enormous tortoise.

In 1973, the zoo’s animal collection had grown to 850 animals of 275 species. In 1975, a Zoological Society was established to promote the zoo and provide funding support through memberships and other fund-raising efforts. The first board meeting took place in September of 1975. In 1978, the Board of Commissioners that directly administered the park was replaced with Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs under the direction of the County Executive.

The Children’s Statute by the entrance of the zoo

In 1995, the zoo fell into disrepair and the zoo was almost shut down in 1995 (Wiki).

In 2000, the zoo completed a new master plan with accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association as its major focus. The zoo started to replace the antiquated 1960’s style cages with larger, more naturalistic habitats for its animals. In 2005, the zoo completed a new 1.8-million-dollar Essex County Animal Hospital at the Turtle Back Zoo to serve the zoo’s animal residents and serve as a animal quarantine facility for the growing animal collection.

That year the zoo demolished the original administration building and education center and replaced them with a new 11,000 square foot complex that included a walk-through gift shop, a new visitor friendly entrance and exit, a 4,000 square foot reptile center, administration offices a new group entrance and two classrooms opening to an auditorium. A new picnic pavilion and an animal themed playground were opening in 2006.

In September of 2006, the Turtle Back Zoo was granted accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. This distinct honor places the Turtle Back Zoo amongst the elite zoos and aquariums of the United States and means that the zoo adheres to the highest standards of zoos in the country.

The Touch Tanks with stingrays in them

Come to the Zoo on Groundhog’s Day to meet “Edwina of Essex”

Edwina of Essex County on Groundhog’s Day 2023

The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog              101 Park Avenue                                                 New York, NY 10178

The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog 101 Park Avenue New York, NY 10178

The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog

101 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10178

(212) 696-8360

Open: Sunday 10:00am-5:00pm/Monday-Thursday Closed/Friday-Saturday 10:00am-5:00pm

Fee: Adults $15.00/Seniors (65+), Students (13-24) & Active Military/Veterans $10.00/Children under 12 $5.00/Members Free

My review on TripAdvisor:

The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog at 101 Park Avenue

When I was walking the neighborhood of Murray Hill for my blog, “, I came across on one of the side streets tucked into a new office building on Park Avenue, The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog at 101 Park Avenue. This unique little museum is two floors of art dedicated to the story of the dog.

The first floor features small fossils that show the early domestication of dogs during prehistoric times with humans. They may have used them for hunting and companionship. You could see this in the burials and in the wall paintings found all over the world that they partnered with early man and helped shape their world.

The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog collection

Most of the paintings were from the Victorian Age (post Civil War to WWI) where the romanticized view of nature and of pet companions was emphasized. One both the first and second floor there were all sorts of paintings of various breeds of dog in all sorts of playful and working environments. There were dogs for hunting and sport, dogs as pets and dogs in playful position reacting with their masters and each other.

The Victorian approach to pets

The was also porcelain figurines of dogs, statuary and trophies from various Canine Clubs all over the country. It shows the history of the dog as show with breeding and disposition counting of the way the animal was raised and trained.

The second floor had another series of paintings, a lot from the same time period and some contemporary artist’s take on modern dog owners and their relationship with their pets.

Canine Porcelains line the staircase

Also on the second floor was exhibition on ‘Presidential Dogs”, with the first families relationship with their dogs (and cats too) and the role that they played in White House politics. Truthfully outside of “Socks”, the Clinton’s cat, I never knew of any of the White House pets. I knew the both the Roosevelts and Kennedy’s had lots of pets in the White House, I never heard of their names or seen their pictures. So that was an eye opener.

White House pets tell their own story

Also in a special case was small fancy dog houses and dog holders for travel which was interesting to see how small dogs could travel with their masters and the expense to create a way for them to travel. These were very elaborate. I thought of some of the items I used to see at Bergdorf-Goodman when I worked there with the Ralph Lauren tote bags and fur lined sweaters and thinking this was a little much.

The museum also has a small gift shop on the first floor near the entrance that you should check out. There is all sorts of books and art work to look through and knick-knacks to buy with a dog them. The staff is also very nice and very welcoming.

The entrance to the museum and gift shop has a nice contemporary feel to it

History of the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog:

The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog preserves, interprets and celebrates the role of the dogs in society and educates the public about the human-canine bond through its collection of art and exhibits that inspire engagement with dogs.

The Museum logo

Founded in 1982, the AKC Museum of the Dog was originally located in the New York Life Building at 51 Madison Avenue as a part of the AKC headquarters. In 1987, the Museum of the Dog was moved to a new location in Queeny Park, West St. Louis County, Missouri. After over 30 great years at Queeny Park, the decision was made to bring the Museum back to its original home and reunite it with the AKC headquarters and collection.

Combining fine art with high-tech interpretive displays, the Museum of the Dog’s new home at 101 Park Avenue hopes to capture the hearts and minds of visitors. Located in the iconic Kalikow Building, the Museum will offer rotating exhibits featuring objects from its 1,700 piece collection and 4,000 volume library.

We hope to see you soon.

(From the AKC Museum of Dog website)

Prospect Park Zoo                                                 450 Flatbush Avenue                                  Brooklyn, NY 11225

Prospect Park Zoo 450 Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11225

The Prospect Park Zoo

450 Flatbush Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11225

(718) 220-5100

My review on TripAdvisor:

The Prospect Park Zoo is one of my ‘go to’ places along with the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden when visiting Brooklyn. The three popular destinations are all in the same neighborhood and if you have a full day is worth the subway ride from Manhattan to visit.

The entrance to the Prospect Park Zoo

On a nice day, the best place to start is the Brooklyn Botanical Garden at opening, then head over through the back part of the garden to Prospect Park and walk to the entrance near Flatbush Avenue and go past the carousel and enter the Zoo past the old Leffert’s Homestead. The Zoo is just past that.

The Leffert’s Homestead in Prospect Park

My review on TripAdvisor:

My review of the Leffert’s Homestead on

The best part of the Prospect Park Zoo is that like the Central Park Zoo it is small enough to see in one day and be able to enjoy the exhibitions in one afternoon and still have time for lunch.

The Map of the Zoo

The main focus of the zoo when you walk through the gates is the seal tanks. These playful animals spend most of their time swimming around or sunning themselves on a warm day. During the feeding schedule, it is interesting to see how they interact with the trainers.

The Seal exhibition

Walking further into the zoo you will walk past the Hall of Animals, where all the smaller animals and amphibians like frogs, snakes and turtles are located. These are a lot of fun for the smaller children who may not see these things in their backyards or even in the parks anymore.

Beyond that is the Barn, where your horses and cows are located and they even have a pair of turkeys, which makes for interesting conversation for children who wonder where they come from at Thanksgiving. The turkeys here are more bred than the wild ones you will see in the woods.

The turkey!

Next to the Hall of Animals is the Animal Lifestyle exhibition where a lot of the gorillas and monkeys are located. It is funny to watch their mannerisms and see ourselves and out behaviors in them. I guess a couple of thousand years never really separated us that much and we still are a lot alike.

From there you will take the Discovery Trail to see more familiar animals that you might see in every day nature such as deer, foxes, porcupines, ducks and geese in a more natural habitat where they can roam free. The space is limited but they look a lot happy to move around than some of the other animals.

All trails lead back to the Seal Tanks where the popular feeding time gathers a crowd and you will see the care that many of the trainers and zoo keepers give to their residents. There is a lot of love for these animals that is given and I can see a lot of respect.

The seals here have a personality

A trip to the snack shop and gift shops at the zoo are expensive and cater to the tourists. They are not as nicely merchandised as the Bronx Zoo or the Central Park Zoo. Still they are fun to visit once or twice.

The Prospect Park Zoo is still a nice afternoon out for families and a nice way to communicate with nature.

The History of the Prospect Park Zoo:

The Prospect Park Zoo is a 12 acre zoo located in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and as of 2016 houses 864 animals. The zoo was originally part of the plan of Prospect Park as a “Zoological Garden” in the western part of the park. The zoo was not part of the finished plan in the park in 1874 by designers Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

The original zoo layout

The park design included a Wild Fowl Pond in the northern part of the park that was stop off for water birds and a Deer Paddock in the southern part of the zoo where deer lived in a penned area.

In the 1890’s, gardens were created for park enjoyment and a informal Menagerie was created by the Brooklyn Parks Commission, George V. Brower, when the donation of small bear, white deer, seven seals, a cow and twelve peacocks came into the possession of the park.

In 1934, Parks Department head Robert Moses set a plan to reconstruct the City’s Parks and under the Works Progress Administration started to revamp the park system. In March of that year architect Aymar Embury II set to design the new zoo with six new buildings and centered by a Seal Pool.

By the 1970’s, the zoo faced disrepair and was neglect for the animals. It was considered one of the worst zoo’s in the country according to the press and finally in 1980, the Koch Administration signed a 50 year agreement with the NY Zoological Society, now called the Wildlife Conservation Society, which was also administrating the Central Park and Queens Zoo.

The new Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center

The park closed in 1988 for a five year, 37 million dollar renovation that gutted all the pits and cages but saved the historic buildings and statuary. The new zoo opened in 1993 with a new name, “The Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center” and a philosophy of educating children. The zoo along with the Queens Zoo have had some shortfalls in the past but have the full support of the Society and the public since the early 2000’s. Still the zoo remains popular with families from all over Brooklyn and the world.

(This information is provided by Wiki and the Wildlife Conservatory website and I give them both full credit for the information)

Central Park Zoo                                                  Fifth Avenue and East 64th Street                     New York, NY 10021

Central Park Zoo Fifth Avenue and East 64th Street New York, NY 10021

Central Park Zoo

Fifth Avenue and East 64th Street

New York, NY 10021

(212) 439-6500

Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-4:30pm

Fee: Adults $12.00/Seniors (65+) $10.00/Children (3-12)$8.00/Total Experience Adults $16.00/Seniors (65+) $15.00/Children (3-12) $12.00

My review on TripAdvisor:

I love coming to the Central Park Zoo when I am visiting the Upper East Side. The zoo is a nice to just relax and reflect from the hustle and bustle of the City. On a quiet midweek day, there is nothing like going to the 2:00pm seal feeding at all times of the year. The seals get so excited and the humans like seeing the seals in their playful mood.

The Seal feedings are a lot of fun.

The zoo is small so touring it will only take about an hour or so to see all the exhibitions. You have a choice of seeing the monkeys, the birds, the seals and the penguins. They finally moved the polar bear out of the zoo a few years ago and he always looked so bored with his life. He would give you a look like ‘get me out of here’.

The Central Park Zoo is set up with different exhibitions.

The smaller animals like the monkeys and the penguins look like they are having more fun in their enclosed homes with more room to move around. They always look at us as visitors in an amusing way like why are we so interested in them. It is an interesting interaction with the animals there to see their reaction to us.

There is also more birds, amphibians and bats to see in other exhibitions around the zoo and smaller outside areas to view the smaller animals such as pandas and leopards that have finally been given space to roam around.

The penguin exhibition

There is also a nice gift shop just outside the zoo and the Dancing Crane Cafe is the zoo restaurant which is over-priced and the food the few times I have tried it was mediocre. It is not like the cafe up at the Bronx Zoo that was pretty decent.

Don’t miss the hourly concert at Delacorte Clock when the animal sculptures dance to the music played. It is such an enjoyable experience.

The Delacorte Clock that plays music hourly

History of the Zoo:

The Zoo was not originally part of the layout for Central Park when designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. A small menagerie developed on the edge of the park with exotic animals that had been donated to the park starting with a bear cub tied to a tree in 1859 and a monkey in 1860. Other animals came later including cranes, a peacock and a goldfish.

The original menagerie

In 1860, the American Zoological and Botanical Society wanted to create a zoo somewhere in New York City. In 1864, the zoo received a formal charter, making it the second publicly owned zoo behind the Philadelphia Zoo. Though a formal zoo had not yet been created, the menagerie, with its free admission and good location made it the most popular attraction in Central Park.

By the 1930’s, the menagerie had become run down and was not sufficient to hold the animals. In 1834, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia hired Robert Moses to head the unified Parks Department and a new more formal zoo was created. The new zoo was opened on December 2nd, 1934 and by 1936 over six million people had visited the zoo.

By 1967, the zoo was again falling apart due to years of negligence and budget cuts. New York City’s fiscal crisis had affected the Parks System and conditions had gone downhill. In 1980, The Wildlife Conservatory (the former NY Zoological Society) signed a fifty year agreement in April of that year and started a renovation of the zoo from 1982 to its opening in 1988.

When the Zoo opened in August of 1988, the concept of the zoo had changed. The Wildlife Conservation Society had taken over the Queens Zoo, the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn and already had possession of the Bronx Zoo and the direction of the society was toward conservation and care of animals while the Prospect Zoo was to be used as a Children’s Zoo and the Queens Zoo would concentrate on North American animals. The Children’s Zoo next to the Central Park Zoo went through its own renovation in the late 1990’s and is now called the Tisch Children’s Zoo after businessman, Laurence Tisch who had donated most of the money for the renovation.

The structures and concept of what a zoo is has changed over the years.

(This information was taken from both Wiki and the Central Park Zoo History)