When the Phinney family started to develop its private country-side estate, in 1889, what would become the future Seattle’s zoo was just a small menagerie project. It is now occupying the western half of Woodland Park and hosts more than 1,100 animals and 300 different species—including some of the world’s most critically endangered in nature: gorillas, tigers, hippopotami, penguins, turtles, butterflies… an immersive and educational world tour in biodiversity.

A short history about Woodland Park Zoo

Guy Carlton Phinney was a wealthy lumber mill owner and real estate developer. In 1887, he bought 342 acres (138 ha) of land down the slope to Green Lake and named it Woodland Park. He kept 180 acres (73 ha) for himself and started to build an English-style manor for the family, a small zoo, a hotel, a stone chapel, a boat house on the lake, a hunting lodge, a bandstand, a green house and formal gardens.

The zoo as a green oasis in Seattle’s Woodland Park. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ © Woodland Park Zoo.

Guy C. Phinney decided to open his estate to the public on the condition that people followed ten rules, including: no dogs, no firearms, no improper language, no removing of any living species. In 1890, the Woodland Park Railway streetcar began to run from nearby Fremont to the park and it quickly became a popular destination for Seattle residents.

The Woodland park circa. 1891. The two small boys standing on the walkway to the right are Arthur and Walter, sons of Guy Carlton and Nellie Wright Phinney. © MOHAI.

After Phinney’s death in 1899, Nellie Wright Phinney, his widow, sold the Woodland Park to the city of Seattle. In the early 1900s, the zoo featured a collection of animals mostly from North America (bears, deer…) but also more exotic species such as ostriches from Africa. The formal gardens of the Phinney estate were preserved in their original form, new pathways were laid out, and to accommodate the new zoo several expansive new spaces and animal quarters were created on the periphery.

Visitors at the zoo watch the monkeys’ antics during the exhibit’s opening weekend. Photo: Seattle Times archives, 1940.
Giraffe arrives in train car for Woodland Park Zoo, 1955. © MOHAI (inv. 1986.5.10399.1).

Woodland Park Zoo today

The zoo of Seattle is accredited by the non-profit organization Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and has earned the rigorous certification Humane Certified™ from the American Humane Conservation program. Its core missions are to save species and protect wild places around the world by supporting conservation projects and programs.

The modern Woodland Park Zoo is divided into bioclimatic zones, each of which features a different natural habitat, ranging from humid tropical rain forests and coastal deserts, to temperate rain forests like those of the Pacific Northwest.

The African Savanna

The vast grasslands of East Africa support huge varieties of animals, from predators, to large herbivores. The zoo’s African Savanna exhibit zoo hosts some of these remarkable species native to these currently shrinking wild grasslands: lions, giraffes, hippopotamus, ostriches, monkeys, zebras…

Giraffe in the African Savanna biozone. © Woodland Park Zoo.

The Australasia

The Australasia zone comprises the Pacific Ocean area, including Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the thousands of islands of the South Pacific. The zoo’s animals from these lands include pouched mammals such as wallabies and wallaroos, but also snow leopards, kookaburra, parrots and emus.

Snow Leopards, from Australasia exhibit. © Woodland Park Zoo.

The Northern Trail

The Northern Trail features animals living in Alaska’s tundra and taiga region, such as brown bears, Roosevelt elk, river otters, snowy owls, mountain goats, and Steller’s sea eagles. The Northern Trail includes an indoor viewing area where one can see river otters swimming playfully underwater and bears hunting for trout.

Otter from the Northern Trail exhibit. © Woodland Park Zoo.

The Temperate Forest

Temperate forests, such as those found here in the Pacific Northwest, are some of the most expansive remaining intact habitats on our planet. Despite the cooler temperatures in those areas, an abundant amount of biodiversity lives in their forests. The Temperate Forest exhibit features red pandas, Asian cranes and maned wolves (in the Wildlife Survival Zone).

Red Panda from temperate forest. © Woodland Park Zoo.

Tropical Asia zone

The dense tropical forests of Asia hold some of the world’s most endangered species. The Tropical Asia zone features the Trail of Vines, the perfect home for orangutans, siamangs and tapirs. Across the main loop path, the zone continues with Banyan Wilds, home to tigers, sloth bears, Asian small-clawed otters, and a variety of birds, all dependent on forests for their survival. This unique part of the world has some of the most densely human-populated cities as well as the last vestiges of wild habitats—a balancing act that is increasingly pushing animals on the brink of extinction.

Gorillas from Tropical Asia biozone. Photo: J. Grapin.

The Tropical Rain Forest

Tropical rain forests ring the middle of our planet and host a huge diversity of plants and animal life. The Tropical Rain Forest zone mimics the forests of both South America and Africa with outdoor exhibits including lemurs, gorillas, colobus monkeys, and jaguars. An indoor tropical rain forest dome features South American specimens: ocelots (small wild cats), snakes, poison dart frogs, and many other fascinating animals.

Jaguar from The Tropical Rain Forest. © Woodland Park Zoo.

Humboldt Penguins

Most people think of snow and ice when they think of penguins, but the penguins hosted in Woodland Park Zoo are from the hot, arid coastal regions of Peru. This exhibit incorporates a rocky coast with incredible underwater viewing. It is also the first sustainable penguin exhibit with geothermal warming and cooling of water and eco-friendly water filtering systems.

Woodland Park Zoo goes Green

As plastic waste becomes an increasingly important global issue for our environment, Woodland Park Zoo is now a plastic bottle-free zone and no longer sells beverages in single-use plastic bottles.

As a conservation organization, the zoo is also committed to be a steward of the environment and turns animal waste into a valuable resource: the most exotic compost available in the Pacific Northwest!… a blend of select animal manures mixed with bedding materials. All the herbivore animals are happy to do their part: rhinos, giraffes, hippos, mountain goats, zebras… Woodland Park Zoo composts approximately 625 tons of animal waste each year.

Three Live Web Cams

The Tiger Cam lets you keep up with three Malayan tiger brothers Liem, Eko and Olan. You might spot them slinking and stalking as they explore. The Bear Cam features two brother grizzly bears, in the Northern Trail exhibit, Keema and Denali. The 24-hour Bat Cam is streaming live from the inside Indian flying fox exhibit. You can see the colony of six male fruit bats living inside the Adaptations Building and getting up for their day… especially at night!

More information:

Woodland Park Zoo’s official web site

Woodland Park Zoo on Google map

Woodland Park Zoo is now on TikTok!