The Knoxville Zoo began as the Birthday Park Zoo in 1948. Due to a lack of expertise and funding, the Humane Society started proceedings to close the zoo in 1971 after the animals’ welfare came under scrutiny.
The zoo was saved by Guy Smith, a local television executive, who took on the job as the zoo’s first director at a salary of $1 per year. Smith managed to convince the City of Knoxville and the local community to invest in this wonderful sanctuary.
As the zoo’s conditions improved and awareness was raised, a focus was placed on breeding threatened or endangered animals. These efforts were rewarded in 1978 with the birth of the first two African elephants to be born in the western hemisphere.