Bronze animals may be the most photographed animals at the Zoo! Guests love to interact with our statues – most often found posing with our large lion pride, oversized gorilla and lounging tiger.
Art is just one more facet of the Zoo’s all-encompassing mission to connect people to our world’s vanishing wildlife and wild places. We have exotic animals, lush plants and outstanding fine art, all which help us see nature in different ways. Through the eyes of an artist and their interpretations of animals, we are taken one step closer to learning about how fragile the natural world has become.
The Zoo’s first bronze statue was added in 1986. “Watermusic,” a bronze rendition of three leaping dolphins, was placed at the entrance of the Aquaticus. Next, a bronze eagle was added alongside a public pathway in 1989…and the tradition continued. To date, the Zoo has been home to over 30 outdoor art forms.
In the late-nineties, the Zoo made a commitment to become recognized as a sculpture garden. A “Sculpture, Fountain, and Botanical Display Policy” was created, in order for the Zoo to adhere to strict selection standards. At first, only “anatomically accurate animals in realistic-looking poses were acceptable. Over time, the rules were altered so that non-realistic and abstract pieces could be added as well.
The first non-traditional sculpture was a stainless steel abstract of an oryx, placed at the top of the Butterfly Garden where Stingray Bay currently stands. Next came the popular “resting” rabbit near the Education Center, whose smooth back has been sat upon by countless children. Even further from the traditional scale was the interpretive metal art placed in the Jungle Gym when it opened in 2004—the first non-animal sculptures at the zoo.
Statues are acquired in a variety of ways; some are commissioned by the Zoo, while others are made available because of private donations through ZOOfriends. Many of the statues have remained permanently, others have moved locations within the Zoo and some have moved to other locations entirely.
Uniquely, seven of the Zoo’s bronze sculptures are created by the world-renown Tom Tischler who divides his time between Oklahoma City and Australia. His art includes the baby rhino, Komodo dragon and two playful baby elephants. The Zoo’s most recent statue, made by Tischler, is a bison, which was placed in front of the Zoo’s new Veterinary Hospital in honor of long-time zookeeper, Ralph Harris.
When discussing his creations, Tischler stated, “It is my intention that people feel an affinity and responsibility toward wild creatures.”
Those feelings are exactly what the Zoo hopes for, too. Animals, plants and art, all working together to connect visitors with nature.
– Amy Stephens, naturalist instructor supervisor, and Bree Leggett, Zoofriends’ director of operations
Photos: Amy Stephens and Bree Leggett