This is a historical feature and not for the purpose of commenting on the conditions in Tampa's early zoos or their treatment of animals.

Back in the time of these zoos, the purpose of the exhibits was mainly to confine the animal and entertain the public.  Enclosures were often just small, concrete-floor cages built with little or no regard for the animals' instinctual behavior and minimal expenditures could not provide a healthy natural habitat. Often there was no secondary barrier to keep the public at a safe distance. Neglect, unsanitary conditions, and lack of experienced, professional medical attention were typical, as well as abuse by visitors. There was seldom any effort to cater to the animals' mental/emotional well-being and performing animals were sometimes trained using negative reinforcement, such as inflicting pain.


TampaPix is by no means an authority on the subject. If you wish to learn  about zoos from experts, read Thomas French's "A Zoo Story" and visit J. D. "Doug" Porter's blog.  Porter's long career was everything from animal keeper to zoo director, and he is an excellent author.  He was superintendent at Lowry Park Zoo from May 1984 to May 1988. 

This is not to say that zookeepers were ruthless abusers and didn't care for their animals.  Many considered their animals as their pets and treated them as such.

While working for the City of Tampa Parks Department, Porter guided the aging zoo, once identified nationally as "the worst zoo in America," through a complete renovation and achieved the institution's first AZA Accreditation.  He  also  arranged  and  organized  the  two  main  sources of funding to privatize the new zoo.

(J. D. Porter career info from LinkedIn)

This site disapproves of and detests any form of mistreatment of animals.


Tampa Mayor Nick Nuccio, 1960s
Photo is a crop from USF Digital Collection





From: Zoo Story, by Thomas French at Internet Archive

The city’s zoo had started in the 1930s as a tiny menagerie—a handful of raccoons and alligators, a few exotic birds—and then had slowly grown [at Lowry Park] into a larger collection of lions and tigers and bears and even one elephant, a female Asian named Sheena who had been transported from India on a jet in 1961, making her the zoo’s original flying elephant. The undisputed star in those early years, Sheena performed twice a day in a circus ring and then gave rides to children. Admission was free. The place was sometimes called “the Fairyland Zoo,” because the animal attractions were merged with a panorama of storybook houses and scenes re-created from Mother Goose and other children’s tales. Kids skipped across the Rainbow Bridge and darted among replicas of the Seven Dwarves, Humpty-Dumpty, and the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs. They clambered onto a small train that chugged and curved across the grounds, and spun on the Tilt-a-Wheel, and threw food over a fence within reach of Sheena’s trunk. Just north of the zoo stood Safety Village, a miniature replica of Tampa, with a shopping mall and a fire station and a tiny City Hall, where police officers tutored young citizens in how to recognize traffic signs and use crosswalks and repel the advances of molesters. Second-graders even got to ride small electric vehicles as they practiced braking at stoplights on Happy Drive and Polite Boulevard.


Around the same time that Fairyland construction was started, work began on a small but quality zoo (for its day) which was completed by the following summer.  The cages were built, Jungle Land was completed, now all they needed was animals for the cages and to roam loose in Jungle Land.

The day the finished park opened, 32,000 people came.  In the mid-1960s, operating expenses cost the city around $65,000 a year for the park, including salaries of five people, food for the animals, maintenance, repair and capital outlay.

Lowry Park zoo supervisor and trainer Bill O'Harris said 95 percent of the animals were donated.  Four lions -- Peggy, Herman, Leo and Penny --were all gifts.  Seven-year-old Leo was part of an act in one of Clyde Beatty's circuses.  O'Harris said he was too tough to work with at the circus, so they gave him to the zoo.  Two wholesalers gave a couple of chimpanzees.  August Busch presented the zoo with two buffalo and some mountain goats.  Nuccio decided the zoo needed some monkeys, so he put an ad in the paper which in effect said, "The Fairyland Zoo needs some monkeys."  Nuccio said they got so many monkeys they didn't know what to do with them all.  Tiny, the Bengal tiger, was loaned by Sarasota's C.R. Montgomery who supplied food to both the zoo and the Sarasota Kennel Club.  The Russian bear was donated by SuperTest Oil Company, when that firm closed down its amusement park at Dale Mabry and Columbus Drive in Jun. 1964. 


Marietta Rushing, a daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Nuccio, shared this story with us at our Save Fairyland Facebook group on Mar. 25, 2021:

Nick Nuccio was my dad.  Dad was an early riser, he was out of the house about 5:00 AM every week day morning, but one morning he started out a little earlier. About 5:30 AM, he returned home carrying a bundle wrapped in a baby blanket. He laid the bundle next to my mom, who was still in bed. She was shocked to see a tiny baby chimpanzee next to her. The chimp had arrived at the airport about 4:00 AM. Dad picked him up, but it was too early to take the tiny creature to Lowry Park. Mom covered the chimp and both [she and the chimp] went to sleep. I doubt that Mom slept very soundly, but the chimp seemed to be very content. At 6:30 AM, Dad returned home to take the little one to Lowry Park.

Thank you Marietta for sharing this wonderful, personal story with us!


A former parks superintendent, the director of sanitation and several others pitched in to get Susie, the chimpanzee, and in 1960, Dr. Lowry's son, General Sumter L. Lowry, Jr. gave the zoo its most prominent exotic animal, Sheena, an 18-month-old Asian elephant.







So the story goes:

One day in 1960, a man approached Gen. Sumter Lowry (Jr.) and asked him to buy an elephant. Lowry asked "Why should I?" The man said "because the children of Tampa have never seen one." Sumter agreed to buy it, but only on the condition it could be here by Christmas. He asked, "Where is this elephant?" "Well, India." was the reply.  Sheena was the first elephant to fly in a jet. She was flown to Tampa from Burma.


READ MORE ABOUT SHEENA here at TampaPix.  How she got from Thailand to Tampa, and the ceremony planned for her arrival at the airport.   See more photos and articles about her youthful years and her trainer, Jim Godfrey. 

Don't miss exclusive photos of Sheena and Mr. Godfrey,  furnished to TampaPix by his daughter, Linda Godfrey Napier.

Find out what Sheena's temporary name was and see the winner of the contest who named her "Shena" and find out what special event the winner was allowed to participate in.

(Eventually, Shena's spelling was changed to a phonetic spelling "SHEENA" so it would be pronounced correctly.)

The acquisition of Sheena provided the impetus for expanding and diversifying the animal collection. By 1987 the zoo was the home of eight different species of animals, including two Florida black bears, two Bengal tigers, a Himalayan black bear, a chimpanzee, two spider monkeys and two otters. As the collection continued to grow, the need to upgrade the habitats and present the animals in natural settings became an issue fully embraced by the Tampa bay area community, which resulted in the formation of an organization dedicated to building a first-class zoological garden.    Zoo History continued

Fairyland token provided by Kimi Lau-Costanzo.
Place your cursor on the coin to flip it over.



In mid-May of 1967, the addition of Bambi Land was announced.  This was a freely roaming deer, sheep and goats section where visitors could pet and feed the animals.  There was also to be a pond with a porpoise, a seal, and Florida fresh-water fish,  in the area of about 5 acres.

The main feature was Billy Goat Mountain, a mound created by dumping some 400 truckloads of fill dirt on the site.  The goats were enclosed by rustic fencing and a concrete stairway that led to the feeding patio at the top.

The design was suggested by a concessionaire in the park, Howard Jones.  Jones donated all the materials, funds, and even the animals for the attraction, which was built by city park crews.

When it opened, there were 25 tame deer roaming the area, 7 nanny goats and 3 billy goats which occupied the "mountain," four  white peacocks, lambs, calves, baby pigs, Cornish hens, guinea pigs,










In 1971, Lowry Park's zoo received a donation of two, 5-year-old chimpanzees.  One would become the zoo's longest-lived resident.  For 35 years, Herman would be the subject of much attention by zoo guests, and keepers alike. 


Read about the life of Herman, from his birth in Liberia in 1966, how he came to the U.S. and to Lowry Park, his donor's only two requirements, the terrible zoo conditions for his first 16 years at the old zoo, his antics, and the tragic end to his life in 2006.  Here on this separate page: 


Herman - the King of Lowry Park Zoo










Lowry Park Zoo Undergoes $20 Million Renovation, Transitions from City Management to Private Organization

From "Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives, by Thomas French (at Internet Archive)

Nick Nuccio, the Tampa mayor who had started it all, called the zoo "a children's paradise."  As the years passed, though, Lowry Park aged poorly. What was once quaint became dreadful.  The train rusted, and two toddlers were injured when a kiddie ride roller coaster derailed, and Sheena the elephant was shipped off to Canada, where she died of a heart attack.  Worst of all was the soul-killing collection of dilapidated cages where the animals kept dying from abuse.  Years later, adults who had visited the zoo as children still shuddered when they recalled the grimness of the place..."It was a rat hole" one city councilman remembered.

As the zoo collection continued to grow through the 1970s, the need to upgrade the habitats and present the animals in natural settings became an issue, the zoo facilities were in need of repair and renovation, with the animals cramped concrete quarters were so poor that the Humane Society called it “one of the worst zoos in America.”  The need was fully embraced by the Tampa bay area community, which resulted in the formation of an organization dedicated to building a first-class zoological garden.

In 1981 the Tampa Parks Department and Citizens Advisory Board called for zoo improvements. The Lowry Park Zoo Association formed at the suggestion of the Tampa Parks Department, Mayor Bob Martinez, and private citizens who shared a common vision. Its mission was to raise awareness of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo and promote a public-private partnership to fund the renaissance of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. Soon after, the Zoo Association embarked on a $20 million capital campaign, and the City of Tampa committed $8 million.


In 1984 the Zoo Board of Directors and J. D. Porter developed a comprehensive, 24-acre zoo master plan. In 1988 the Zoo Association became the Lowry Park Zoological Society, a private, independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to the management and ongoing development of a superior zoological garden, and was no longer owned by the City of Tampa Parks Dept.

SEE  Bringing Down the Bars Nov. 18, 2019 - Doug Porter and his time in Tampa during Lowry Park Zoo's transition of 1984. 

After several years of fundraising and the help and support of mayor Bob Martinez and the city of Tampa, the original Lowry Park Zoo closed with a ceremony on Monday, September 7, 1987 at 6pm for its $20 million reconstruction.  There were no admission fees for the last days of the old Lowry Park Zoo, with the new zoo expected to charge $3 for adult admission and $1.50 for students.  The amusement rides, which were not affiliated with the zoo, were closed on the final weekend.

Also on the final weekend, Reynolds Aluminum Recycling, in cooperation with radio station Q105 and Pepsi-Cola, celebrated the closing/remodeling with a "Cans for Critters" fund-raiser.  Reynolds gave free memberships to the first 7 recyclers to donate 25 lbs. or more to the campaign.  The family memberships, which were expected to go on sale in October of 1987 for $25, would admit a family to the new zoo for a year.

Over the next 3 to 4 months, animals were shifted from the old zoo to new homes, to be joined by other animals throughout the country.  A large, screened-in aviary was planned to be open the following January, featuring  100 species of birds in a walk-through exhibit.

A second portion, the Primate World, was built to display eight species of primates from chimpanzees to red-ruffed lemurs.  The third segment, the Asian Domain, was to give visitors a look at animals such as elephants, camels and leopards.



April 12, 1985
Moving day at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa went pretty smoothly Friday.
The cougars were prodded from above their cages into a truck waiting nearby.

TBT archives photo


A Ride to Remember - April 19, 2014
A Zoo Man's Musings
J. D. (Doug) Porter is a zoologist, an educator, and a writer who takes the unorthodox and controversial view that zoos can be good for animals – if they are done right.

I have been doing some reminiscing (and some writing) about the early days at the Lowry Park Zoo. I love this photo of my son Jason and the story it tells, as he sits atop Buke – a massive male Asian elephant.


1985 - Jason Porter atop Buke, the male elephant brought in to share Sheena's enclosure at Lowry Park to accompany Sheena to Canada and make her transportation less traumatic.

A Ride to Remember
- April 19, 2014

The Lowry Park Zoo, at that time, had one 24 year old Asian elephant named Sheena, who had been donated to the zoo in 1961 by the Park’s namesake** General Sumter L. Lowry, Jr.  The new master plan had been designed around her and the building she inhabited, but in order to build her new facilities, she would need to be moved to another zoo for a few years. After searching far and wide, we found a good facility at African Lion Safari near Toronto Canada that would take her. They had proper facilities, other elephants, and a highly competent staff. All we had to do was figure out how to get her there. I described the process in my article for the Zoo’s newsletter in the fall of 1985. 

 **The park was named for Gen. Lowry's father, city commissioner Dr. Lowry, not Gen. Lowry.

The Death of Sheena

This bronze elephant is located at the entrance to the Asian domain within the Lowry Park Zoo, and is intended to serve as a memorial to Baby Sheena, who was donated to the zoo by Sumter L. Lowry, Jr. in December, 1960. Lowry intended Sheena to be a gift to the children of Tampa, who, in 1960, had not been exposed to elephants in a local setting.

Read the rest of the article by Doug Porter and the circumstances of Sheena's death here at the breakout feature about Sheena, here at TampaPix.

1986, Bronze  4’ x 5’
Lowry Park Zoo
by Joyce Parkerson


Don't miss J. D. (Doug) Porter's interesting blog about zoos and other related topics.
He is an excellent author and has written quite a few books.
"From animal keeper to zoo director, my career spanned over forty years. It included positions with a half dozen of America’s great zoos during the most transformational era in zookeeping in more than a century—a time when zoos went from 19th century menageries to modern day arks."

Five articles are specifically about his years at Lowry Park:

A Ride to Remember - Memories of Sheena's preparation to relocate her in Canada
Apr. 19, 2014

Good Sized Zoo for the City of Tampa - A brief history of Tampa's zoos.
Nov. 7, 2019

Bringing Down the Bars - Doug Porter and his time in Tampa during Lowry Park Zoo's transition of 1984.
Nov. 18, 2019

An Elephant Moves to Canada - Sheena, from beginning to end.
Nov. 27, 2019

Tampa's Lowry Park Chimps Walk on Grass - The story of Herman and Gitta from Liberia to Lowry Park.
Dec. 5, 2019









The rejuvenated first phase of the revamped zoo opened on March 5, 1988 with a Free-Flight Aviary, Asian Domain, Primate World and a Children's Village/Petting Zoo. 

Fairyland returned, along with the original rainbow bridge entrance (without the large pool), as the Fairyland walk at the "Fun Forest," with many of the original storybook character statues having been cleaned up, or repaired and repainted, and possibly even replaced or removed. 

Riding a camel at the newly opened zoo, Mar. 6, 1988.

TBT archives photo courtesy
of Kimi Lau-Costanzo



More than 614,000 people visited the Zoo during its first 12 months after reopening.


Ralph Alday of Tampa's City Parks Dept. puts finishing touches on the newly refurbished Fairyland walk at Lowry Park, Sept. 1989. 
Photo from Historic Images.

By February of 1992 the newly renovated park consisted of the zoo, amusement park, Fun Forest with Fairyland walk, and new Children's Museum (formerly Safety Village) adjacent to it. Admission to the Lowry Park Zoo was $5.50 for adults, $3.50 for children 4 to 12 and $4.50 for the elderly (children 3 and younger free). The newly built zoo had 1,600 animals in enclosures designed to resemble native habitats, and attractions included a 175-bird aviary and an underwater view of a manatee. There was also a children's petting zoo and the fountain at the entrance where they could wade.

Fun Forest at Lowry Park had 19 rides as well as a playground and the "Fairyland" walk.  Admission to the amusement park was free, but it took three tickets to board each of the rides; individual tickets cost was 40 cents, a 20-ticket book was $6.95 and an all-day wristband was $9.95.

(1992 NY Times article:  What's Doing In Tampa, by Tampa resident Sara Kennedy; Published: February 2, 1992.  Recent zoo history from Lowry Park Zoo website.  Sept 4, 1987 Visit the Zoo Before the Gates Close  Conclusion)