Lions and zebras and bison, oh my! Archived footage offers glimpse of the Houston Zoo through the years

If you like the Houston Zoo and you like old videos, then you’ll probably like these old Houston Zoo videos.

Archived footage of the Houston Zoo (KPRC 2 / Texas Archive of the Moving Image)

HOUSTON – A hundred years ago, the Houston Zoo was founded.

Animals were housed at the zoo even before the earliest exhibits opened to the public in 1924.

In 1920, the U.S. government thinned the bison herds in the national parks and donated one of the animals, a buffalo named Earl, to the City of Houston. For a time, Earl was kept in a pen at Sam Houston Park -- the city’s first public park and the site of a burgeoning, albeit, informal zoo of sorts. Among the many animals kept there were rabbits, raccoons, eagles, a black bear, an owl, Capuchin monkeys and prairie dogs, Alice M. Scardino Bradley writes in her book “Houston’s Hermann Park, A Century of Community.” Shortly after Earl was placed in the park, a deer was donated to keep him company. Earl’s arrival, welcome as it was, prompted many to realize the makeshift menagerie was simply growing too large for the small park.

In 1922, after acquiring several birds, snakes, and alligators, the city moved all its animals -- about 40 in total -- to a fenced area in Hermann Park, beginning what we now recognize as the Houston Zoo.

The site, initially dubbed the Houston Zoological Gardens, opened to the public two years later on Dec. 1, 1924. By then, the zoo had amassed hundreds of birds, dozens of reptiles and many other animals including Asian elephants Nellie and Hans.

Fast-forward a century and the zoo now cares for some 6,000 animals. A popular tourist attraction, the Houston Zoo draws an estimated two million visitors each year.

In celebration of the institution’s centennial, we dug through the Texas Archive of the Moving Image for footage of Houston Zoo’s early years. From the archival rabbit hole, we unearthed six moving pictures, including news segments broadcast on KPRC 2, which offer a glimpse of the zoo through the years.

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Houston Zookeeper Hans Nagel rides a Zebra

Houston’s first zookeeper Hans Nagel and his team saddle and break a zebra at Houston’s Zoological Gardens. In 1922, Nagel was hired by the city to care for the park’s 40 animals. Under the direction of Nagel, the zoo acquired hundreds of additional animals, including two Asian elephants,

Lion Cubs at Houston Zoo (1953-54)

This unedited KPRC 2 footage includes a variety of news segments from 1953 and 1954. Most of the clips are silent. A reporter would have provided voice-over during broadcast. A majority of the footage documents happenings at the Houston Zoo, including the birth of a litter of lion cubs and a press event for the Boy’s and Girl’s Zoo Fund with Mayor of Houston Roy Hofheinz. Several bison, chimps and a massive tortoise also make an appearance in this video.

Pygmy Marmoset at the Houston Zoo (1961)

The KPRC 2 news segment broadcast on November 1, 1961, shows Houston Zoo staff evaluating a pygmy marmoset. The group weigh and measure the marmoset, the smallest monkey and one of the smallest primates in the world, at just over 100 grams or 3.5 ounces.

Baby and Mother Hippo at the Houston Zoo (1962)

This KPRC 2 news segment broadcast on April 26, 1962, shows a mother hippo with her new baby at the Houston Zoo. The pair move around their enclosure, eating hay and drinking water from their pond.

Tamanduas at the Houston Zoo (1968)

In this KPRC news segment, a Houston Zoo keeper explains how to care for a baby southern tamandua, also known as the collared anteater.

Home movie of the Houston Zoo (1981)

A portion of this 1981 home movie captures a Texas family on a visit to the Houston Zoo, where they see zebras, bison, elephants, and jaguars. The latter half of the video shows a Beaumont parade honoring NASA astronaut Robert Crippen upon the completion of the first space shuttle mission.

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Do you have old Houston Zoo photos? We’d love to see them! Share them with us at or at Be sure to leave your name and the year the photo was taken. We’ll feature some of the best and oldest images submitted.

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.