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Zoos: Gladys Porter Zoo – a Potted History

Related: Elmwood Park Zoo / Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom / Austin Zoo / Wild West City

The Gladys Porter Zoo is located in Brownsville, Texas.

The zoo opened in 1971 when it was planned and built then subsequently stocked and equipped by the Earl C. Sams Foundation before being handed over to the city of Brownsville.

It was this from this foundation that the zoo would get its name.

Earl C Sams used to work for the famous businessman J.C. Penney and subsequently went on to become the company’s President when the J.C. Penney Company was incorporated in 1917.

Mr Sams had two daughters, Gladys and Camille, and they both became heavily involved in charitable work and, following their father’s death in 1950, they were both entrusted to administer the funds established by his Foundation.

In the 1960s, Gladys (now Porter) and her husband Dean travelled extensively throughout Africa and other foreign countries where they became interested in and concerned about the plight of the world’s wildlife which consequently led them to deciding to open up a zoo in Brownsville.

The zoo covers 31 acres and has, on average, 375, 000 visitors per year. It is split up into 4 geographical areas – Asia, Africa, Tropical America and Indo-Australia and there are also Bear Grottos, a California Sea Lion exhibit, a Herpetarium and Aquatic Wing, a free-flight aviary, a Macaw Canyon and a Komodo dragon exhibit at the zoo.

The zoo also has a Small World area which is home to a nursery and an animal contact yard where children can interact with domesticated animals and even get to touch them.

Gladys Porter sadly died in 1980 but up until her death, she was not only President of the zoo for 11 years but had also been heavily committed to getting involved in the zoo’s day-to-day operations.

However, her legacy at the zoo lives on today through its continuing mission to preserve wildlife and nature through education, conservation and research.

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