North America’s most elevated zoo happens to be located in Colorado Springs. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is situated on the eastern flank of Cheyenne Mountain, one of the Front Range peaks that dominates the skyline just west of the city. Its entrance is located at 6,718 feet above sea level, but the zoo’s footprint, following the rugged topography, ranges one to two hundred feet higher.
It comes as no surprise that the views afforded from such lofty heights are far-reaching, as the two photos above illustrate. The first shows downtown Colorado Springs with the ridge of Austin Bluffs in the background and the Great Plains extending east as far as the eye can see. The famed Broadmoor Hotel with its equally celebrated two 18-hole golf courses, which occupy the rolling terrain a short distance beneath the zoo, dominates the center of the second image (the attached link is for the golf aficionados among you: https://www.broadmoorgolfclub.org).
I have no doubt that many of us share ambivalent feelings with respect to zoos. Animals are confined in cages or enclosures and live in environments mildly or vastly different from their natural habitats. We have all visited facilities where animals appear lethargic or even neglected, but this kind of cruelty should become more and more a thing of the past. Modern zoos attempt to approximate the animals’ habitat and care deeply for their charges with species-appropriate food, medical care, and regular activities intended to prevent boredom. Such is definitely the case at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which has been consistently ranked among the top-ten zoos in the United States in the last decades. Its 146 acres shelter about 800 different animals representing 200 species (compared to the country’s best-known San Diego Zoo’s 12,000 animals across 650 species).
As we know, some species exist only in captivity because (wo)mankind and our destructive ways have usurped and destroyed their world. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is responsible for the publication of the Red List of Threatened Species, more than 37,600 species worldwide are threatened with extinction. This grievous number represents 28% of all assessed species. Zoos and their breeding programs play an important role in the survival of at least some of these creatures.
Our local zoo has its origins in the exotic animal collection of Julie and Spencer Penrose, founders of The Broadmoor Hotel. When their growing menagerie, some of which was kept on the hotel grounds, caused increasing consternation among the guests, the couple founded the precursor to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in the 1920s and donated it to the city of Colorado Springs in the 1930s. As a non-profit organization that receives no tax support, almost its entire income is generated by earned revenues, membership dues, donations, corporate sponsors, and grants.
After allowing our membership to lapse a few years back, my husband and I renewed it in 2020, when it became clear that the pandemic would negatively impact the institution’s financial stability. But fearing contagion, we stayed away. Once we had paid our 2021 fees (and received our Covid vaccines) we finally returned for a visit in May.
Until our sojourn, I didn’t realize how much I had missed watching our zoo’s animals during their activities (or rest periods, as is often the case). I also greatly enjoyed journeying not only through different regions of North America, but also parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. And all that within the course of one afternoon not fives miles from our own den.
Because of the impossibility of doing this place and its denizens justice in one blog post, I will create at least three. Today’s shows a small selection of North America’s fauna. The mountain lions, which also occur in the wild in Colorado, provided us with one memorable moment. When the formerly relaxed felines left their habitual napping corners and stared intently at something or somebody outside their cage, we followed their gaze. In solidarity with the center of the cats’ attention, we breathed a sigh of relief for the metal that separated all of us from the strong paws and sharp teeth of these very powerful pumas.
To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.
This post (and its sequels) is dedicated to fellow blogger Brigitte in Bremen who blogs at https://sjffbb.wordpress.com. If she hasn’t visited all of Germany’s zoos, she has come close. For years, I have promised her a post about our local zoo, even if it doesn’t harbor polar bears, her favorite animals (apart from her dog Buddy).