SubscribeAvailable Now
Photo courtesy of the Denver Zoo

How Denver Zoo’s Bear Mountain Exhibit Revolutionized Animal Care

Bear Mountain turns 100 this year. During the past century, a lot has changed at the zoo.

|

An orphaned black bear named Billy Bryan became the Denver Zoo’s first resident in 1896, when Mayor Thomas McMurry stuck him in a cage in City Park. Today, most would shiver at the conditions—wrought iron bars with little space to pace—that Billy endured. Fortunately, Denver didn’t dabble long in animal cruelty. A century ago this year, the zoo unveiled Bear Mountain. The naturalistic exhibit was the first in a series of improvements that have turned the Denver Zoo into a pioneer of animal care. Here, three of the advancements we only wish Billy could have enjoyed.

Going Au Naturel

In 1918, as part of Denver Mayor Robert Speer’s City Beautiful campaign, Bear Mountain made its debut. The space is an exact replica of a peak near Morrison—workers took plaster casts of actual cliffs to get the details right. Foliage adorns the concrete, a moat prevents escape, and visitors’ views aren’t obscured by bars. Bear Mountain inspired a nationwide movement toward natural-looking enclosures, including three still-existing Denver Zoo exhibits (Feline House, Bird World, and Tropical Discovery).

Advertisement

Move It, Move It

Predator Ridge, one of the world’s first rotational exhibits, opened at the Denver Zoo in 2004. Home to lions, hyenas, and wild dogs, it’s designed with three separate yards. Zookeepers shift the predators between the regions, a practice that stimulates their brains by providing new spaces to explore. Eight years later, the zoo expanded the concept to much larger mammals. Two miles of interconnected trails in the 10-acre Toyota Elephant Passage encourage elephants, rhinos, and Malayan tapirs to wander.

All Together Now

The writing is on the (cave) wall. In 2015, Denver’s City Council approved a new master plan for the zoo, meaning Bear Mountain might be replaced. Over the next 15 to 20 years, spacious, multispecies habitats will allow interactions that would happen in the wild—mounds built by termites could act as a hornbill’s perch and a rhino’s scratching post. (The zoo kept these creatures separate in the past.) Plans for the bears and their mountain aren’t yet known, but one thing’s for sure: Their new home will be even sweeter.

Rescue Party

Answer the call of the wild at this Boulder County nonprofit’s annual event.
By Julia Talen

Photo by Ken Forman

If you’ve ever saved an injured chipmunk or abandoned duckling, chances are you brought it to the Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Lyons. The 36-year-old nonprofit cared for more than 3,400 sick, hurt, or orphaned critters found by concerned Coloradans last year, making it the largest facility of its kind in the state. To support the organization’s work, party animals will gather at the UCAR Event Center in Boulder on September 7 for Wild Night, Greenwood’s most important annual fundraiser. (It brought in more than $150,000 in 2017.) After a buffet dinner, attendees bid on prizes, like a weeklong trip to Telluride or a Maui getaway, while sipping wine and locally brewed craft beer from the open bar. If you can’t swing $85 for a ticket but still want to help, try donating your time. Volunteers get to work with wild animals, preparing them for release into their natural habitats.

5280 Longreads

Newsletter Signup

Keep me up to date on the latest trends and happenings around Denver. 5280 has a newsletter for everyone. Sign Up