The Abandoned Belle Isle Zoo

What happens when an entire zoo falls into collapse, remaining untouched by humans for years? If you were to walk the grounds of the once lively Belle Isle Zoo, you would find the answer to this. What was once used to shelter wild animals, from monkeys to cheetahs to the king of the jungle for people’s odd enjoyment, has now become the very eerie reality of a true jungle. The elephants have vanished, and taking their place is nothing but nature’s combative overgrowth pouring upwards through cracks in the former habitat’s cement foundation. Where once was filled with water is now nearly bone dry, while trees and foliage cover boardwalks like emerald canopies. This has become nature’s zoo now, as it shows off the chaotic destruction it can bring forth once we simply turn our heads the opposite way.


This two-and-a-half mile long island sits atop the Detroit River, and has been a beautiful destination for generation after generation of families and tourists alike. In 1910, the decision had been made to place a zoo mid-park, which remained active for the next 46 years, welcoming well-dressed families and soon to be fading memories. Welcoming the year 1956, we find that the zoo had changed faces, becoming a children’s zoo, after the main zoo had moved to its current home in Royal Oak.


1980 would become the welcoming year for a place called “Safariland” to take the place of this now former children’s zoo. In June of this year, an unnamed 9 month old bear, resident to Safariland, had managed to secure an exit and make her way across a half mile of the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada. It was decided later that the bear would be released into the wild to continue her life naturally.


2002 rolled around and due to monetary and budgeting issues, the zoo was permanently closed, doomed to remain nothing but a fading memory. Much metal has been stripped by scrappers, people have made their marks with graffiti and the raised boardwalks continue to collapse more and more with each passing year. A new zoo has been built at an opposite end of the island park, so it is currently unclear what may come of this once bustling attraction. One thing is clear, however; nature will always remain the most powerful force in our universe, no matter how hard we try to overpower it. All we are doing is making mother angrier.







8 thoughts on “The Abandoned Belle Isle Zoo

  1. Our family often spent pleasant, relaxing summer Sunday’s on Belle Isle or at River Rouge Park and Bob-Lo Island with other extended family members from around Detroit during the 1950’s. Detroit was a wonderful, exciting, vibrant and safe town, especially fun for us growing kids.

    Unfortunately by the early 1960’s everything changed as large numbers of African Americans migrated to Detroit. Belle Isle and other attractions became plagued by fights, muggings and stabbings.

    As it became apparent that police would not gain control, whites and businesses began to flee en-masse. My father was a realtor so I got a front row seat to this tragedy. He urged our many relatives to sell out while they could. Those that fled to the suburbs did okay, those who remained eventually became prisoners in their own homes, afraid to even venture out to the local market. When they finally fled, they lost everything because their homes were now worthless and had to be abandoned. It was a real education for me.


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