Go Wild
From its conservation efforts to the on-site experience, Elmwood Park Zoo strives to enrich the lives of exotic animals and the humans who love them.
by Walter Ault

If Elmwood Park Zoo ever decides to adopt an official motto, a good one might be: We give visitors what they want and the animals what they need. The storied Norristown-based institution has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1924, when a local farmer donated a small parcel of land alongside Stony Creek to the borough.

Considered a small-town zoo, Elmwood Park Zoo hasn’t let its diminutive size stop it from doing big things. The zoo has gained admiration and respect over the past 10 years for adding new animals and upgrading the exhibits that house them, with the dual goal of dramatically increasing visitors and piquing interest in the creatures that share our planet. The zoo has even more elaborate changes in the works, led by the vision and drive of CEO Al Zone and enabled by the acquisition of a large parcel of land on the other side of Stony Creek.
Elmwood Park Zoo and its staff are involved in such important endeavors in education and research, as well as animal husbandry, rehabilitation, and conservation. Perhaps the most highly anticipated endeavor of all is a veterinary hospital, presently under construction.
Measuring an estimated 17,000 square feet, the hospital will be one of the largest and most advanced exotic animal care facilities in the nation, including surgery suites, exam rooms, treatment areas, and more. As always, Elmwood Park Zoo has kept its human constituents in mind with a public viewing area that will give visitors the opportunity to watch the zoo’s medical staff at work.
“The viewing area is a great element of the hospital,” says Michal Kortsarts, a marketing associate for the zoo. “It shows people how we care for the animals and how important animal conservation is to us. It’s all about animal conservation.”
The zoo was closed for a couple months due to the start of construction of the hospital and a new welcome center. While the construction is ongoing, the zoo is open for business.
“People seeing the construction happening kind of makes a visit to the zoo even more interesting,” Kortsarts adds. “People can literally see what is happening and [know] what to expect to see in the future.”
In 2022, Elmwood Park Zoo became accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Norristown landmark zoo is one of only 238 zoos and aquariums in the country to have received the honor, which assures visitors that the zoo maintains the highest standards in animal care, welfare, and safety.
Other relatively recent accomplishments include the 2017 opening of a “Trail of the Jaguar” exhibit. The 5,600-square-foot exhibit gives visitors an extremely close-up look at a number of the large, beautiful cats native to Central and South America.
“We love taking care of the animals,” Kortsarts says. “And we enjoy educating people about animal conservation and exactly what we do for the animals in our care.”
The zoo’s dedication and creativity has paid off, with yearly attendance increasing fourfold in roughly 10 years. In 2022, the zoo drew more than 600,000 visitors, becoming one of Montgomery County’s leading tourist attractions.
About the same time the hospital opens in 2024, the zoo will also unveil another component of the master plan it began in 2019: an Asia-specific enclosure that will include a tiger. The master plan also calls for an education complex and a bridge connecting the two sides of Stony Creek.
A walk through Elmwood Park Zoo is fun for the young and the young at heart. When the kids get restless, they can enjoy the carousel, feeding the giraffes by hand, and an interactive playground, as well as a unique attraction called Treetop Adventures.
The zoo offers educational workshops, interactive opportunities, and experiential events throughout the year. For example, a program called “Keeper For A Day” gives children the unique opportunity to work alongside zookeepers as they complete their daily tasks.
It’s relatively inexpensive for any animal lover to procure a yearly family membership to Elmwood Park Zoo, which enables visitors to stop by as often as they want—and receive exclusive member benefits—for no additional charge. One might say frequent return visits are the only way someone can keep up with the many changes and upgrades taking place at this special part of the world alongside Stony Creek.
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life, August 2023.