Wildlife Conservation Society

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is a 501(c)(3) non-governmental organization headquartered at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, that aims to conserve the world's largest wild places in 14 priority regions. Founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society (NYZS), the global conservation organization is now led by Interim President and CEO Robb Menzi as of April 2, 2024.[2] WCS manages four New York City wildlife parks in addition to the Bronx Zoo: the Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo. Together these parks receive 4 million visitors per year.[3] All of the New York City facilities are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).[4]

Wildlife Conservation Society
FormationApril 26, 1895; 129 years ago (1895-04-26) (as New York Zoological Society)
Type501(c)(3) non-profit organization
HeadquartersBronx Zoo
Bronx, New York, United States
Alejandro Santo Domingo
Vice chair
Hamilton E. James
Key people
Monica Medina (President and Chief Executive Officer)
Formerly called
New York Zoological Society (1895–1993)




Tour through Bronx Zoo, 1950

The Wildlife Conservation Society was originally chartered by the state of New York on April 26, 1895.[5][6]: 52  Then known as the New York Zoological (also reported as "Zoölogical") Society,[5] the organization embraced a mandate to advance native wildlife conservation, promote the study of zoology, and create a first-class zoological park that would be free to the public. Its name was changed to the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1993. Andrew H. Green, was the first president of the society, but was replaced by Levi P Morton after Green resigned due to declining health.[6] Henry Fairfield Osborn, who was the curator of the American Museum of Natural History and the founder of the American Eugenics Society, was Morton's successor.[7] Madison Grant, popular eugenicist and author of The Passing of The Great Race, acted as the society's secretary and the chairman of the executive committee.[8][9] William Temple Hornaday operated as the founding Director and General Curator of the park itself. Together, these leaders wrote hundreds of works promoting preservationist values. Their writings and arguments were foundational for conservation, but notably partially motivated by racial discrimination, hyper masculinity, and an association between protecting the nation's wildlife and the nation's white population.[10]

Other notable figures were also involved in the Society's creation including George Bird Grinnell, founder of the Audubon Society and editor of Forest and Stream Magazine and members of the Boone and Crockett Club.[6]

The Bronx Zoo (formerly the New York Zoological Park) was designed along the lines of other cultural institutions in New York City, such as the American Museum of Natural History. The city provided the land for the new zoo and some funding for buildings and annual operating costs. WCS raised most of the funds for construction and operations from private donors, and selected the scientific and administrative personnel. Hornaday's tenure was very significant for conservation, but he encountered controversy after the exhibiting Ota Benga, a Mbuti (Congo pygmy) man.



In the late nineteenth century William Temple Hornaday, then director of the New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo), carried out a direct-mail survey of wildlife conditions through the United States, and publicized the decline of birds and mammals in the organization's annual reports. He was a prolific writer who published The Extermination of the American Bison and Our Vanishing Wildlife: It's Extermination and Preservation among many other texts. Our Vanishing Wildlife, in particular, revealed an association between species extinction and the decline of the white race in America.[10]

In 1897 Hornaday also hired field researcher Andrew J. Stone to survey the condition of wildlife in the territory of Alaska. On the basis of these studies, Hornaday led the campaign for new laws to protect the wildlife there and the United States as a whole. In 1901, a small herd of American Bison were gathered in a 20-acre meadow just off what is now the Pelham Parkway roadway. Starting in 1905, Hornaday led a national campaign to reintroduce the almost extinct bison to government sponsored refuges.[11][12] Hornaday, Theodore Roosevelt and others formed the American Bison Society in 1905. The Bronx Zoo sent 15 bison to Wichita Reserve in 1907 and additional bison in later years. The saving of this uniquely American symbol is one of the great success stories in the history of wildlife conservation. Hornaday campaigned for wildlife protection throughout his thirty years as director of the Bronx Zoo. Beginning in 1906, Hornaday featured Ota Benga, a member of the Mbuti from the Congo, in a zoo exhibit.[13] In July 2020, the Wildlife Conservation Society apologized.[14]

Madison Grant and Osborn worked together with John C. Merriam, another eugenics supporter, in 1918 to form the Save-The-Redwoods-League.[10] Together, they succeeded in convincing legislators to preserve many redwoods by comparing the trees to a race in danger. Local communities sometimes saw the attitudes of Grant, Osborn, and Hornaday as being elitist compared to those of poorer citizens and nonwhite citizens.[10]

William Beebe, the first curator of birds at the Bronx Zoo, began a program of field research soon after the Bronx Zoo opened. His research on wild pheasants took him to Asia from 1908 to 1911 and resulted in a series of books on the birds.[15] Beebe's field work also resulted in the creation of the Society's Department of Tropical Research, which Beebe directed from 1922 until his retirement in 1948. From 1930 to 1934, off of the coast of Bermuda, Beebe conducted research in an undersea vessel called the bathysphere. The vessel made thirty-five dives in total, taking him half a mile deep and along the ocean floor. During the dives, Beebe made observations on bioluminescent fish, as well as identifying several new species. This expedition was significant, as it was the first time humans observed the bottom of the deep sea and its creatures in their natural habitat.[16] The bathysphere is currently displayed at the New York Aquarium.[17]

During the World War II era, Henry Fairfield Osborn, Jr was elected president of the NYZS and Laurance Rockefeller was elected as executive committee chairman. A best selling writer on conservation and son of WCS founder Henry Fairfield Osborn, Osborn embraced changes that represented new thinking within the organization. Guests were allowed to bring their own cameras into the Bronx Zoo. Beginning with the African Plains exhibit in 1941, animals were grouped by continents and ecosystems, rather than genetic orders and families.[18]

After World War II, under the leadership of Osborn, the organization extended its programs in field biology and conservation. In 1946, WCS helped found the Jackson Hole Wildlife Park, which later became part of Grand Teton National Park in 1962.[19] In the late 1950s, WCS began a series of wildlife surveys and projects in Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burma, and the Malay peninsula. In 1959, it sponsored George Schaller's seminal study of mountain gorillas in Congo. Following that expedition, Schaller went on to become the world's preeminent field biologist, studying wildlife throughout Africa, Asia, and South America. Conservation activities continued to expand under the leadership of William G. Conway, who became director of the Bronx Zoo in 1962 and President of WCS in 1992. Active as a field biologist in Patagonia, Conway promoted a new vision of zoos as conservation organizations, which cooperated in breeding endangered species. He also designed new types of zoo exhibits aimed at teaching visitors about habitats that support wildlife, and encouraged the expansion of WCS's field programs.[20]

During the 1960s and 1970s, the WCS took a leadership role in pioneering zoological exhibitions by seeking to recreate natural environments for the animals on display. Under the leadership of WCS director William G. Conway, the Bronx Zoo opened its World of Darkness for nocturnal species in 1969 and its World of Birds for avian displays in 1974.[21] Eventually, New York City turned to WCS to renew and manage three city-run facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. The redesigned Central Park Zoo opened in 1988, followed by the Queens Zoo in 1992 and the Prospect Park Zoo in 1993.[22] From 1994 through 1996 Archie Carr III of WCS helped establish the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, a reserve for endangered jaguars.

Today, WCS is working in sixty nations around the world on more than five hundred projects designed to help protect both wildlife and the habitats in which they live.[3] The organization endeavors to work in fourteen priority regions that contain fifty percent of the world's biodiversity. These projects range from the conservation of gorillas in Africa, tigers in Asia, and macaws in South America. In recent years, WCS has actively worked in conflict areas like Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar, where agreements on wildlife resources have contributed to peace and stability. More than 4 million people visit WCS's wildlife parks in New York City each year.[23][24]

Digital projects


WCS has backed numerous digital projects, including the Mannahatta Project/Welikia Project, and the Last of the Wild. The Manhatta Project is an initiative on the historical ecology of the New York area in 1609, prior to colonization. The project illustrates the fifty-five different ecosystems that existed in the region through digital reconstructions.[25] The Last of the Wild is a dataset showing different areas' relative Human Footprint,overlaid onto a map of the world. This data is used to map wild areas, as well as natural resource distribution.[26]

International projects


Makira National Park


In 2001, in collaboration with the Madagascar Ministry of Environment and Forests, the WCS launched a program to create the 372,470 hectare Makira Forest Protected Area.[27] In 2017, WCS partnered with carbon-reduction platform Cool Effect to allow users to fund ongoing carbon-reduction projects directly supporting the Makira Natural Park.[28]

Melanesia Program


Directed by Stacy Jupiter, the Wildlife Conservation Society's Melanesia Program focuses on conservation in the Melanesian region of Oceania. The program works specifically in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Melanesia contains a high amount of biodiversity and is home to the world's largest and most elevated tropical islands. The program works both terrestrially and aquatically within the Bismarck Solomon Seas Ecoregion and the Bismarck Forest Corridor. It strives to combine community involvement and conservation rooted in science to resolve issues such as habitat loss, environmental degradation, overexploitation, and climate-change.[29]


Name Borough Year Founded Joined WCS Size Number of Species
Bronx Zoo Bronx 1899 1899 (Founded by WCS) 265 acres (107 ha) Approx. 650
Central Park Zoo Manhattan 1864 (menagerie)

1934 (zoo)

1988 6.5 acres (2.6 ha) 163
New York Aquarium Brooklyn 1896 (Battery Park location)

1957 (Coney Island location)

1902[30] 14 acres (5.7 ha) 266
Prospect Park Zoo Brooklyn 1890 (menagerie)

1935 (zoo)

1993 12 acres (4.9 ha) 176
Queens Zoo Queens 1968 1988 18 acres (7.3 ha) 75+

See also



  1. ^ "Wildlife Conservation Society - GuideStar Profile".
  2. ^ "Monica Medina Steps Down as WCS President and CEO". newsroom.wcs.org. Retrieved 2023-08-02.
  3. ^ a b "About Us" WCS.org, accessed 23 November 2020
  4. ^ "List of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums" Association of Zoos and Aquariums, aza.org , accessed 23 November 2020
  5. ^ a b "Gov. Morton Signs the Bill Providing for a Zoological Garden in This City". The Sun. April 27, 1895. p. 7. Retrieved January 20, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ a b c New York Zoological Society.; Society, New York Zoological (1896). Annual report of the New York Zoological Society. Vol. 1. New York: The Society.
  7. ^ Fears, Darryl (July 22, 2020). "Liberal, progressive — and racist? The Sierra Club faces its white-supremacist history". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  8. ^ Grant, Madison (1916). The passing of the great race; or, The racial basis of European history. University of Michigan. New York, C. Scribner.
  9. ^ Park, New York Zoological; Hornaday, William Temple (1913). Popular Official Guide to the New York Zoological Park. New York zoological society.
  10. ^ a b c d Powell, Miles A. (2016). Vanishing America : species extinction, racial peril, and the origins of conservation. ISBN 978-0-674-97295-7. OCLC 973532814.
  11. ^ William Temple Hornaday: Saving the American Bison Smithsonian Institution
  12. ^ William Temple Hornaday: Visionary of the National Zoo Archived 2008-06-15 at the Wayback Machine Smithsonian Institution
  13. ^ Keller, Mitch (2006-08-06). "The Scandal at the Zoo". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-02-15.
  14. ^ Jacobs, Julia (2020-07-29). "Racist Incident From Bronx Zoo's Past Draws Apology". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  15. ^ Beebe, William (1906). The Bird: Its Form and Function. H. Holt.
  16. ^ Beebe, William (January 1933). "Preliminary Account of Deep Sea Dives in the Bathysphere with Especial Reference to One of 2200 Feet". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 19 (1): 178–188. Bibcode:1933PNAS...19..178B. doi:10.1073/pnas.19.1.178. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 1085903. PMID 16587738.
  17. ^ "Bathysphere". History Of Diving Museum. Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  18. ^ Bridges, William (1974). Gathering of Animals: An Unconventional History of the New York Zoological Society. Harper & Row Publishers. pp. 450-453. ISBN 0-06-010472-4.
  19. ^ "National Park Service".
  20. ^ Roberts, Sam (2021-11-05). "William Conway, Who Reimagined America's Zoos, Is Dead at 91". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  21. ^ Hancocks, David (2002). A Different Nature: The Paradoxical World of Zoos and Their Uncertain Future. University of California Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-52023676-9.
  22. ^ About the City Zoos nyzoosandaquarium.com
  23. ^ Congo Gorilla Forest WCS.org
  24. ^ "Our Work - WCS.org". www.wcs.org. Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  25. ^ "Manhatta – Landscape Visualization". Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  26. ^ "Last of the Wild (Geographic), v2: Last of the Wild, v2 | SEDAC". sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  27. ^ Cristián Samper "Pivoting from Paris to Madagascar on Climate Change" Scientific American, 5 December 2015
  28. ^ Cool-Effect-Partners-with-WCS-to-Save-Madagascars-Makira-Natural-Park WCS Newsroom, newsroom.wcs.org 15 June 2017
  29. ^ "Melanesia". Wildlife Conservation Society. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  30. ^ "WCS Milestones In Marine Research & Conservation 1895-2017". newsroom.wcs.org. Retrieved 2022-08-14.