Welcome to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

View of The Broadmoor Hotel, one of its two golf courses, and Cheyenne Lake which separates Broadmoor East (on the right) from Broadmoor West (on the left).

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.

The reason why the cats interrupted their nap.

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).

59 thoughts on “Welcome to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

  1. Hallo liebe Tanja.
    Was für eine Überraschung.
    Vielen Dank für den feinen Eintrag 😊
    Ich war nun auch schon lange nicht mehr in einem Zoo.
    Corona war Schuld daran und es wird auch noch eine Weile dauern bis meine Zoofreundin komplett geimpft ist.
    Hab mich jetzt gefreut und wünsche dir einen angenehmen Tag.
    Gleich gehe ich los und schaue mal ob ich einen oder zwei neue Vögel schnappen kann.
    Aber Hauptsache raus in die Natur 😊
    Viele liebe Grüße
    Brigitte

    Liked by 1 person

    • I initially misread the unfamiliar (to me) word geimpft as one syllable (like bleibt) before realizing that the ge- is the usual past-participial prefix. Impfen sounds so German, yet the etymology in Wiktionary shows otherwise: “From Old High German impfōn (impitōn), from Proto-West Germanic *impōn, from Vulgar Latin *imputō (‘to graft’).” In fact the presence of the ge- in geimpft shows that native German speakers have lost any sense that the word is a foreign borrowing, as contrasted with more-recently borrowed verbs in -ieren whose past participles don’t get ge- prefixed to them, like bombardiert, telephoniert and studiert.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hallo Brigitte,
      es freut mich, daß ich Dir eine kleine Überraschung bereitet habe. Deine vielen Zoobesuche und -berichte haben mich immer angespornt, auch mal unseren Zoo vorzustellen.
      Ich hoffe Du wirst bald wieder in der Lage sein, Deine Lieblingszoos aufzusuchen. Aber Du hast Recht–Hauptsache raus in die Natur.
      Sei herzlich gegrüßt,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Tanja, thank you for your post on the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. It is really way back in time that we visited our local zoo here in Dortmund. It was always fun, but too difficult with all the new rules based on the pandemic. Hopefully it will become much easier in Summer time. Have a great one, Uwe

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy rezooing to you. This zoo post of yours coincides with the word zoonotic being in the news lately now that censors have lifted their ban on posts that in any way dealt with the possibility that Covid-19 might not have had a zoonotic origin.

    If only the presence of the Austin Bluffs meant that I could traipse over to a part of my town and find myself in Colorado Springs, I’d stop by and say hi.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Steve. If you can link Austin Bluffs (which, by the way, used to be Austin’s Bluff in the 1870s, when it belonged to a Mr. Austin whose sheep grazed the hills) with your hometown and create a portal that transports you here, please do stop by and say hi. 🙂

      Like

    • It is up there, Neil. I read somewhere that it is considered the highest zoo in America, but since South America countries are often higher than Colorado, I’m not sure about that claim. Also, some Himalayan countries might have zoos that are located at a higher elevation.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m glad that zoos are improving and doing important work to preserve species from extinction – wish they were all like that! But I also feel sad to see animals in captivity, so mixed feelings for me too.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am ambivalent about zoos but understand that some do offer injured animals and endangered species a safe environment to live out their lives. And although I haven’t been to a zoo in I don’t know how many years, I understand that a better job is being done to create something resembling a natural envirom=nment for them. As a child I visited the Forest Park Zoo in my hometown of Springfield, MA and the cages and enclosures were quite small. The animals could move but were quite restricted. I do believe things are better there now. I suppose I should have a look. I am less a fan of zoos as collections for collecting sake.
    That’s a cute shot of the porcupine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know how you feel, Steve. But in a world where habitats are shrinking more and more and many animals are hunted, zoos play important roles not only in breeding and conservation, but also education. And those who visit might get motivated to become conservationists themselves.

      If you go back to the Forest Park Zoo, I hope you will be positively surprised!

      There are two porcupines at the zoo and I’m always glad when they are awake and active. Such cuties!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, Tanja. I just don’t enjoy the idea of “collectors”. Education is good and that’s where I think zoos that home injured and endangered animals make a lot of sense. I think people can still gets inspired by the work done to rehabilitate or protect.

        Maybe I will visit Forest Park one day and do a photo essay.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. My husband is ambivalent about zoos, and he has never visited a zoo as a child, but some of my favorite childhood memories include visits to the zoo with my parents. I agree that it’s sad for animals to be locked in small spaces, but I don’t think I’d have ever cared about wild animals or conserving their natural habitats if they were an abstract concept for me only seen on TV. I love your pictures of the mountain lions. Thank you, Tanja.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your personal experience, Nirmala. I think zoos are places where awareness about nature and animals’ lives and challenges can germinate. And I think you are absolutely right–a TV can never provide the same sense of immediacy and proximity a zoo can.
      I’m glad you like the mountain lions. We also love seeing them, they are so handsome.

      Like

  7. I too have mixed feelings about zoos, but the best can make an important contribution to conservation and education. The important thing is that the welfare of the animals takes priority over any other consideration. Animals should never be kept in captivity simply to generate a profit for those who run them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope that animal welfare will become the focus of more and more zoos, even if it’s not realistic to expect this from every single zoo. Public scrutiny can play an important role in holding zookeepers accountable. That would not be necessary in an ideal world, but as we know, we live in anything but.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. To echo many of the comments above, I too have mixed feelings about zoos. However, when zoos become homes for injured or neglected animals, I am all for it. For many years, a highlight for my first graders was a hands-on animal experience brought to our school for smaller groups. Their delight at holding a boa constrictor, watching Winnie the Wallaby hop by them in the large circle they created, and seeing the owl “fly” silently on his limited tether was priceless to me. Personally, one of my peak experiences was patting Aslan, the amazing and noble lynx, as he walk around the circle. The shows always held a touch of sadness, as the animals weren’t free to be back in the wild, but I believe that the effect on my students was powerful and long term.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m inching toward a trip to The Springs someday, with neighbors who came to NC from there sharing their knowledge and having family myself in the Denver area. I caught your clever wording “… not fives miles from our own den.” Perfectly put!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks Tanja for sharing your “not five miles away ” zoo. 🙂 Decades ago, we visited a zoo for primates in Florida where the visitors strolled inside cages while the monkeys roamed semi-freely outside in their natural habitat. A strange experience and an eye-opener, and you wondered who was looking at whom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure yours was a remarkable experience, Meggie, being so close to the monkeys. There is a primate exhibit at our zoo, but visitors can only interact through either glass or metal bars. Looking into the eyes of the apes always gives me chills.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Tanja, you do such a lovely job of providing context–for this zoo’s setting, for zoos more generally, for your own relationship to the place and its denizens. I love that your writing is so compact, informed, and informative…and I really love the story within the story provided by your photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Andrea, which makes me very happy.
      Please let me know if you are ever in the mood to visit the zoo as I would love to take you as my guest. something included in our membership.

      Like

  12. I’m not a big fan of zoos, for the reasons you’ve so eloquently pointed out, Tanja, yet I do agree that the breeding programmes are often vital in ensuring species survive. I like the story of how this zoo started. They definitely have an important role to play and must cost a fortune to operate.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I enjoyed your photos and text, Tanya. They brought to mind my visit to the Houston zoo a year or so ago, when I was astonished by the changes that had been wrought. Not only have the exhibits been enlarged (a neat trick for a zoo in the middle of a city), the exhibits now are spoken of as ‘environments.’ Natural settings are meant to suit the animals first, and the purpose of the zoo has increasingly become education rather than exhibition. In this instance, social media has become a wonderful tool, as the whole city follows the birth of a giraffe, the antics of new penguins, and so on. I’m not a fan of visiting during summer, but when things cool off in the fall, I’ll make another visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Linda.

      What you report about the Houston zoo is true about the local zoo as well. Anybody can sign up for news about animal pregnancies, births, and other important events and the keepers make short youtube films about important developments. I think it’s a great way for the public to feel connected to the zoo and its animals and they are more likely to care about their well-being and preservation.

      I also laud the fact that 25 cents of each visitor’s entrance fee goes towards field conservation, and the cumulative donations since 2008 have exceeded $3 million.

      I hope you will enjoy your return visit once the worst heat has passed.

      Like

  14. Watch out Turkey Lurkey!! Great shots, Tanja. I love the little porcupine. We will have to add this to our list of zoos to visit. We went to a great bear sanctuary outside Denver some time ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kerry. Watching the cougars react instantaneously when the turkey appeared outside their enclosure was a reminder that their instincts are alive and well.
      And if you ever find yourselves back in this area and visit, I think you will enjoy the zoo.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is a delight to watch the animals display their natural instincts and I enjoy the efforts of modern zoos to make their environment as good as possible. When we visited Austin Zoo, we had great fun watching a keeper ‘play’ with one of the tigers. She pretended he was prey and stalked him all over the enclosure. They had a deeply loving relationship.

        Liked by 1 person

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