Project Description

The Belle Isle Zoo was built 1910 and was originally the Detroit Zoo. Families came from all over Detroit to see tiger cubs, seals, elephants, and other animals at the zoo. In 1956, the Detroit Zoo moved to it’s current home in Royal Oak. The Belle Isle location remained, but became a children’s zoo. The children’s zoo did very well and attracted still attracted many families throughout the years.

In 1980, the Belle Isle children’s zoo was renamed Safariland. Safariland had a idea to attract more people to the zoo. They focused on bringing in animals that people would see on an African safari. These animals would include lions, leopards, and zebras. Safariland didn’t last long and it was back to the Belle Isle Zoo. In it’s final years, the Belle Isle Zoo was back to the expected assortment of animals, such as monkeys, snakes, and bears. The zoo’s most noteworthy residents were the herd of endangered, fallow deer that were native to Belle Isle. The deer were moved into the zoo, so the zoo-keepers could protect and study the rare population of deer.

By 2000, the Belle Isle Zoo was suffering from lack of attendance and was in danger of closing. In 2002, then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced that the Belle Isle Zoo would not be opening that year.

In 2004, a local campaign to reopen the Belle Isle Zoo was met with great success. Rather than renovating the older Belle Isle Zoo, Kilpatrick used the funds to build an all new zoo, named the Belle Isle Nature Zoo. The Belle Isle Nature Zoo was located on the opposite end of the island. The old Belle Isle Zoo was abandoned and largely forgotten about.

In 2002 the Belle Isle Zoo closed, citing funding issues and the city’s growing deficit.

In 2004, a public campaign by groups including the Friends of Belle Isle resulted in the passage of a local bond issue to fund reopening the park. Kilpatrick responded by using those funds to build a new nature zoo at the other end of the island, awarding the construction contracts worth millions of dollars to a firm that had close ties to the Kilpatrick Family.

As of 2015, the Belle Isle Zoo is in severe disrepair. Most of the metal has been stripped from the buildings, which are now covered in graffiti. The old, high rise walkways, that wound through the park are now starting to collapse. There are no current plans for the Belle Isle Zoo, but it has been a backdrop for a couple of movies recently. Now that the State of Michigan has taken control of Belle Isle, maybe something will happen soon.