George Moses had a passion for his community and a passion for exotic birds, which came together when he was named caretaker of Phillips Park in 1910.
After adding swans, small monkeys and a donated bear to his park, the city of Aurora took notice, officially recognizing the property as a zoo in 1915.
“In January of 1915, their city council minutes, from the city of Aurora, that mentioned providing money to build a building in the zoo that would be heated so that the animals they had could survive the winter. And that ended up to be what is now our reptile house here at the zoo,” said manager Randy Johnson.
And it only grew from there with additions including a water wheel built in 1963 and an otter exhibit opening in 1996. Today, it houses over 100 animals representing 41 different species.
That’s thanks in part to the efforts of Zoo Manager, Randy Johnson.
“I love coming to work, I go out my back door and I’m at work,” said Johnson.
Randy has brought in a bald eagle exhibit and hand-raised wolf cubs for the wolf exhibit that opened in 2001.
For Johnson, expanding the zoo grew from a personal connection.
“I’ve lived in Aurora most of my life. When I was younger we always visited the zoo with my parents, and we also had school picnics here at the park. The caretaker’s house here at the park, was lived in by the Moses family, throughout their years. And I always thought walking down the zoo, it would be so cool to live in a zoo and work in a zoo. And now that’s exactly what happened.”
Though small in size, it’s the perfect pastime for families to spend an hour before heading to the nearby park, and the size of the zoo allows for a more personal care of its animals.
Seasonal zoo employee Marinna Perez said, “Here, everybody from around can just come here to visit the zoo. It’s small but it’s nice. It allows us to take better care of our animals, each individual one because we’re small. So we’re dedicated to the public and we’re also dedicated to our animals.”
Since the park is funded through the state of Illinois, any upgrades are currently on hold, but it doesn’t diminish this up close and close by experience.
The Phillips Park Zoo is open year round with free admission.
Rachel Pierson Reports.
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