Detroit Children's Zoo – Detroit, Michigan - Atlas Obscura
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Detroit, Michigan

Detroit Children's Zoo

The bones of an old zoo crumbling in the shadow of a new one. 

Not far from the boat clubs and picnic spots on Detroit’s Belle Isle are the abandoned remains of the once bustling Detroit Children’s Zoo.

Opened in 1895 as the Belle Isle Zoo, this now-overgrown site was rechristened The Detroit Children’s Zoo in 1947, and then Safariland in the 1980’s, adding an “African” architectural theme which remained until the park closed. Eventually, the site fell victim to corruption and economic woes, leaving the empty enclosures to be slowly reclaimed by the island’s flora.

The facility was home to the expected assortment of animals over the years, such as monkeys, snakes, and bears, but the zoo’s most noteworthy residents were the herd of rare fallow deer that were native to Belle Isle, and were moved into the zoo as they were encroached on by the push of civilization. In 2002 the zoo delayed opening due to lack of attendance, after which then-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick decided to shutter the park permanently.     

In 2004, a local campaign to reopen the zoo was undertaken and met with success. A bond was issued to finance the a renovation, but Mayor Kilpatrick used the funds to build an all new Detroit Zoo on the opposite end of the island using construction contractors he happened to have personal ties with. The old children’s zoo was forgotten, and ended up just another abandoned structure in a city already rife with ruin.