Creating a Bronx Zoo Historical Walking Tour

The Bronx Zoo wanted to develop an in-person and online walking tour enhanced by their archival collections.

An activity by
partnering with Metropolitan New York Library Council

Explores the borders

Online artifacts In-person storytelling


This project can make the zoo’s history and archival collections more visible to zoo visitors and to the greater public who might encounter them online while using a popular online tool for walking tours.


2300 Southern Blvd, The Bronx, NY 10460, USA



The Bronx Zoo is a 265-acre wildlife park in the Bronx. The zoo is surrounded by some of the most underserved communities in the US, and the majority of the surrounding communities are composed of people of color.


Visitors to the Bronx Zoo come from all over the world. The target audience consists of both tourists and local visitors interested in in the history of the zoo.

How the audience/participants were reached or discovered

We are using two methods with reach out to audiences: we selected the first method, the Urban Archive platform, for our virtual tour, because it would allow us to connect to anyone with access to a computer or smartphone and the Internet, including people who had perhaps never visited the zoo.  The second method, an in-person tour, allows us to connect with people who are already visiting the zoo or who, perhaps, are coming to the zoo to take the tour.

How it was done




The foundation of our tours is our archives, and specifically on the digitized archival material we have made available on the Metropolitan Library Council of New York’s Digital Metro site.  This digitized material consists largely of ephemera related to the Bronx Zoo.


We wrote descriptions for each of our tour stops, adjusting the writing between the virtual and in-person version of the tours.  This was done to reflect the more interactive nature of the in-person tour, as well as the fact that we were not limited by word counts, as we were on the Urban Archive platform.


Our virtual tour could also be considered an exhibition as it centers on items from our archives.  In this way, the text for each stop functions as a label.


Our tours are built around maps.  The virtual tour gave us more flexibility with this: we could jump around the zoo in a way that made sense to the story we wished to tell, but that would haven’t been physically possible.  On the other hand, the in-person tour required us to be very conscious of the physical space and of the paths that we would want our users to follow.



We are very pleased with the results of our tours.  Although the COVID outbreak has meant that we have not yet been able to give our in-person tour, we have received a lot of positive feedback on our virtual tour, which can be seen here:


The tour was the top-ranked tour the first two weeks that it appeared on the platform, and we heard directly from users within WCS, including staff in our Development, Education, and Government Affairs departments who were excited to share it with their constituents.

How it went

Main lessons learned

The tour addresses the history of the zoo in a thoughtful way, exploring how changes to the Bronx Zoo over its history reflect its evolving mission. The main takeaway should be a larger understanding of how zoos have shifted from prioritizing the human experience to a focus on the care and perspective of the animals. Each stop on a walking tour has a “so what” element that makes a clear case to the person on the tour why this place is essential to the story.


We were inspired by visitor interest in the subject.


Project consultants Rebecca Krucoff and Natalie Milbrodt were essential to this activity, providing guidance and feedback on the tour’s contents and logistics.

Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny and Bronx Zoo General Curator Pat Thomas provided helpful feedback on the tour.

From the WCS Library and Archives, Sana Masood gathered and coordinated the visual assets for the tour, and Madeleine Thompson wrote the tour.

Activity Timeline


  • Grant awarded

    The Metropolitan New York Library Council awarded the Wildlife Conservation Society a project grant to create a walking tour for the Bronx Zoo with the help of project consultants Rebecca Krucoff and Natalie Milbrodt. The team aims to have the tour ready for the public by the summer of 2020.

  • Consultant site visit

    Natalie Milbrodt and Rebecca Krucoff visited the Bronx Zoo on a busy Saturday in the summer to get a sense of the zoo’s visitorship and the physical geography of the area where they could plan the walking tour. They discovered that all of the zoo’s landmarked, historic buildings were clustered in a concentrated area that was not as busy as newer parts of the zoo. This seemed like an opportunity to activate the area with a new kind of activity for visitors interested in the zoo’s history.

  • Mobile walking tour tech comparison

    Natalie Milbrodt spent approximately eight hours conducting a comparison among three mobile walking tour applications. This included using the technologies on a variety of devices and reaching out to their developers for information not available on their websites about the capabilities of their platforms. Products reviewed were Clio, Urban Archive and Historypin.


  • Second zoo site visit

    Consultant Rebecca Krucoff met with WCS staffers Maddie Thompson and Sana Masood to walk the grounds of the oldest part of the zoo, Astor Court. The team decided to limit the tour to an hour at most and to focus on a small number of buildings, perhaps the former Lion House and the Education Building. The team determined next steps for drafting the tour and meeting again in the following weeks.

  • Unscripted walkthrough of tour

    Maddie and Sana walk the tour, record Maddie talking out loud the stops; Maddie developing written notes.

  • Notes created for tour and reviewed

    Maddie and Sana sent Rebecca and Natalie notes for their review, Rebecca and Natalie send feedback, the group meets via Zoom to discuss

  • First draft created and reviewed

    Maddie and Sana send Natalie and Rebecca the first draft, and the team reviews via Zoom.

  • Second draft created and reviewed

    Maddie and Sana send Natalie and Rebecca the second draft, and the team reviews via Zoom.

  • Virtual tour published

    The virtual tour is published on Urban Archive.

  • Review plans for in-person tour

    Rebecca, Maddie, and Sana meet over Zoom to discuss in-person tour.

  • In-person tour draft created and reviewed

    In-person tour draft is created and reviewed by Maddie and Rebecca.

  • In-person tour complete

    The in-person tour is completed.  We may continue to tweak this tour as we are able to give it at the zoo in the coming months.