The Wildlife Conservation Society is a New York-based environmental organization which has been supporting conservation efforts around the world, and several zoos in New York City itself, for over a century.
The organization was established in 1895 with the goal of protecting wildlife around the world. Some of its first efforts involved saving the plains bison, which in the United States and Canada was hunted to the verge of extinction during the late 19th century before small populations were rescued by conservationist organizations. Today, the organization claims that it supports and manages five hundred separate projects in sixty countries. Hundreds of scientists work directly for the organization.
In addition, the Wildlife Conservation Society also manages five separate zoos in the New York City era. These are the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the New York Aquarium, the Prospect Park Zoo, and the Queens Zoo. The Bronx Zoo is its most important institution, and is the largest urban zoo in the country. It first opened its gates in 1899 under the leadership of William Hornaday, better known for his role in rescuing the plains bison and the Alaskan fur seal. Hornaday (and the zoo) are also known for a more dubious and infamous incident in 1906, when an African pygmy man named Ota Benga was “exhibited” at the zoo. African-Americans, led by clergymen, protested and the zoo closed its human “exhibit” after only several days. Today all of the organization’s New York zoos have moved beyond such racist stunts, however, and continue to attract millions of visitors annually.
Currently, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s official website presents an interactive world map identifying all of the various sites around the world at which the organization is active. Ongoing projects include the Northern Boreal Forest, an area in Ontario the size of France populated with only a small number of Aboriginal communities; numerous sites in the continental and Alaskan United States; and a large number of projects in South America, central Africa, and Australasia.
As a non-profit organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society currently sells individual and family annual memberships which include free admission and parking at the society’s four zoos and aquariums in New York, and discounts at the zoo gift shops and restaurants. The organization states that it does not have reciprocal relationships with any other museums or zoos, under which discounts would be provided on admission to other organizations’ institutions. It does, however, provide seniors’ discounts, and currently allows entrance into the zoo each Wednesday by donation rather than at a fixed price.