Monroe, Louisiana

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Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo

The Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo is the premier family tourism destination in northeast Louisiana, boasting a beautifully landscaped facility, a diverse collection of animals, a professional, dedicated staff and strong community support.

To look at it today, it is difficult to believe the zoo began with 15 “cages” in 1923 and that people once described its current location as a snake- and alligator-infested swamp. Monroe Mayor Arnold Bernstein and Commissioner Will Atkinson first opened the zoo in Forsythe Park in 1923. Five years later, the city purchased 137 acres at what is now Bernstein Park for the sum of $41,142. The zoo continued to maintain 15 cages.  Twenty years passed without change before the zoo began adding more exhibits.

Some suggested the zoo be closed. But Mayor W.L. “Jack” Howard had other ideas. He’s credited with transforming the zoo into one of the finest in the nation. Howard developed a master plan through two stages of renovation and expansion. The zoo hired Kit Breecher as its first professional zoo director and the facility expanded into a multi-million dollar zoological park.  

In the next 20 years, the city continued to build, provided more exhibits and purchased a tour boat. Breecher is credited with much of the zoo’s design, and Jake Yelverton, who succeeded Breecher in 1969, is credited with assembling an extraordinary collection. The Bernstein Park Zoo, which had closed for renovations late in 1969, reopened as Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo in April of 1971.  The new park had made great advances both in its collection and in its landscape, adding beautiful gardens.

In 1984, the Louisiana Purchase Zoological Society was formed. This non-profit organization continues today to raise money for zoo projects, operates The Wild Side Gift Shop and promotes zoo-related activities and events.

In 1996, Mayor Abe E. Pierce III appointed a director of community affairs to oversee the zoo and other city parks and golf courses.  In May 2002, Everett Harris was appointed as zoo director following Yelverton’s retirement.  The zoo then hired a full-time veterinarian, general curator, education curator and a public relations specialist to assist in outreach, promotion and tourism.

Harris made many changes to the zoo’s appearance and collection including an exhibit commemorating the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase Exhibit which opened in November of 2003 features a variety of animals indigenous to the original land purchase of 1803.  4

Joseph Clawson became Zoo Director in 2009 and brought with him ideas to once again move the zoo forward including the implementation of a Children’s Zoo and plans for a “Splash Pad” water facility in the center of the zoo.

The Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo now attracts more than 115,000 visitors a year, operating daily from 10:00AM to 5:00PM, closed only on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.





Joe Clawson............…..….……………….….…………………………..........….….……………... Director

Lisa Taylor.........…...…..…………………….……………………..…. ………………General Curator

Kimberly Dooley………………………………….………………………………....Education Curator

Lenard Montgomery..……….…………....….………...….Construction Maintenance Foreman

Robin J. Green…………..........…………..…………………......….…………….…......Manager

Carin Collins……………..……………………..………...…………………….Office Manager

Kate Neal......….…..…………...........................….……………………........Animal Curator

Robin Green.......................................................….……………....Grounds Supervisor


FAQ's

About Us

Photo of reopening as Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo formerly Bernstein Park Zoo

Boat ride of The Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo in 1971


Three words describe most of the zoo’s focus today, education, conservation, and preservation.  It is important that we focus on the big three in order to maintain awareness of the importance of balance in our ecosystem.  Education is a large part of our daily routine as our Education Division presents on-site classes and off-site outreach to students of all ages.  Programs may be scheduled by calling or emailing the Education Curator.  Conservation is a concern so that zoos such as ours can properly relate the importance of keeping our planet clean, free of pollutants, and maintaining forests and natural habitats.  Preservation is of utmost importance, showing our visitors animals in naturalistic habitats that include species that are threatened or endangered, dispelling myths, and creating interest in these magnificent creatures.  Many of our keepers also regularly rescue and rehabilitate native species.


Our Care

Zoo Supervisors

Zoological Society

Donna Nash…...............….…………………..………….…………….......Zoological Society Coordinator