Party animals celebrate 20th anniversary of Philadelphia Zoo's PECO Primate Reserve

John McDevitt
July 10, 2019 - 4:55 pm
PECO Primate Reserve party

John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — In 1995, a devastating fire claimed the lives of 23 endangered primates at the Philadelphia Zoo. Since then, world-renowned exhibits and programs were created in its place, a collaboration between the zoo and PECO.  

Now 20 years later, the PECO Primate Reserve is celebrating a milestone anniversary with a big party at America's first zoo.

Adorned with streamers, the Primate Reserve was full of excitement Wednesday — and some special treats for its inhabitants. About 60 primates ranging across more than 120 species — including orangutans, gorillas, gibbons, lemurs and more rare and endangered primates — call the space home.

The indoor and outdoor exhibits were created after the Christmas Eve '95 fire at what was then the World of Primates building. The fire broke out in the middle of the night, killing animals that had resided at the zoo since '67, according to The New York Times' archives. Many animals died from smoke inhalation. The fire reportedly started by an improperly installed heating cable in the roof of the primates' quarters.

The zoo rebuilt modern exhibits and implemented programs in '99, which have since served as models for other zoos.

"That was a moment that in many ways was the rebirth of the new Philadelphia Zoo," said Vikram Dewan, zoo president and CEO. "The first (zoo) in the country but now first in innovation; thinking about new ideas and always doing them at the highest level of accomplishment."

The zoo was the first to launch the PECO Browse Program, which works with tree-trimming utility companies to give extra clippings to zoo animals, providing 200 to 300 extra pounds of nutrient-rich, plant-based snacks.

The zoo is also part of a species survival program, and year-round efforts are conducted to educate the public on the  importance of conservation and what others can do to help save lives of animals in the wild.

After 20 years, the Primate Reserve will get an upgrade, too, in the form of an outdoor gorilla climbing wall.