The Next Generation of Wildlife Experiences

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Families from the Rio Grande Valley and beyond travel to one of the farthest parts of South Texas to visit Brownsville’s shining tourism and education destination, renovating over the next decade.

“It’s absolutely fabulous,” said Dr. Patrick Burchfield, the CEO of the Gladys Porter Zoo. “This has been a wonderful couple of years. We have a supportive mayor, city manager and city council, who realize the zoo is one of the premiere attractions in the Rio Grande Valley.”

The Gladys Porter Zoo, home to hundreds of species, has become a tradition for Brownsville residents to visit for 53 years as of 2024.

Coryann Thornock, a mother and resident of the border city, has visited the zoo since childhood and recently shared the experience with her 1-year-old daughter.

“They did good at spacing out which construction projects they’re working on,” Thornock said. “It did have a bit of an impact on us when we tried to go a certain direction. You don’t want to see all those fences, but it comes with the territory of wanting to evolve and turn the zoo into something bigger.”

She took her daughter for the first time May 11 while the zoo was working on the many projects it announced during an Oct. 2022 press event. Thornock felt nostalgic about the zoo as she saw the construction. She witnessed the completion of the Russell Aquatic Ecology Center project at the zoo during the 2010s and continues to love the center today.

Dr. Burchfield has a big dream. He has dedicated over two decades to serving the zoo, witnessing its transformation from primarily taking animals from the wild to mostly having zoo-born animals. During a public ceremony, Gladys Porter Zoo outlined its plans for welcoming the next generation of curious Valley minds and tourists.

The zoo is excited to announce the upcoming installation of a zip line. According to a press release from the city of Brownsville, the zoo began construction on its Soaring Eagle Zip Line project in 2023.

Dr. Burchfield explained that the zip line has a secure double chair that travels backward 120 feet to provide an immaculate view of the zoo and resacas, then descends to the ground at 30 mph.

With all the construction and more construction to come, the zoo will eventually add more noise to its symphony of animal calls. While zoo visitors like Thornock experience this through blocked paths, how zoo animals will be affected is a new concern for zoo care. Dr. Burchfield mentioned that a research team has observed the zoo’s upcoming construction and is investigating its potential impact.

Thanks to these collaborative efforts, visitors can now experience the zoo as it enters the next generation of wildlife experiences in an ever-industrializing region.

To stay updated on the zoo’s projects, visit their website at gladysporterzoo.org.