The Beginnings of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

    It all started with a bear. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo got its start with an ursine gift to founder Spencer Penrose and included a wild collection that roamed the Broadmoor grounds.

    Spencer Penrose, two men and early zoo elephant
    Spencer Penrose, in hat, with early zoo elephant. Photo courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

    Spencer Penrose would be pleased by the success of the zoo he established as a nonprofit in 1938. Penrose arrived in Colorado Springs in 1892, lured by the promise of gold in nearby Cripple Creek. A tall, gregarious Easterner, he made his fortune in investments in real estate and mining and established the Utah Copper Company. In 1916, he was given a black bear and started collecting wild animals. Soon, an elephant, an elk, fox and deer were at home at Penrose’s Turkey Creek Ranch.

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo historic entrance
    Zoo historic entrance. Photo courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

    He relocated them to his hotel, The Broadmoor, where it was reported that the menagerie, including coyotes, seals and flamingos, roamed the grounds. Many of them were housed in pens and cages in front of and alongside the golf course. Guests at the luxury hotel weren’t pleased, according to Penrose’s El Pomar Foundation, and in 1926, Penrose founded the zoo and moved his collection to the facility on the flank of Cheyenne Mountain.

    Penrose incorporated his zoo in 1938 into a nonprofit public trust “for the sole purpose of establishing and maintaining a zoological park to provide recreation, education, conservation and scientific facilities in the field of zoology and related subjects.”

    1950s zoomobile with passengers
    1950s zoomobile. Photo courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

    Bob Chastain, president and CEO of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, acknowledges that Penrose held a different view of how a zoo should operate than the current perspective.

    “But he was a visionary who understood the importance of gathering wild species and having people view them,” Chastain says. “He was doing the exact work that we are doing now, in having lesser numbers of animals in bigger enclosures.”

    —Deb Acord

    New Breed of Zoo

    baby giraffe
    Baby giraffe. Photo courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

    Read about the extensive behind the scenes work that makes the present Cheyenne Mountain Zoo a breeding and conservation leader in the Spring 2016 print edition of Springs.