Monday, March 31, 2008

Monkey Island Jackson Zoo

Many Mississippians fondly remember the Monkey Island Castle at the Jackson Zoo. Monkey island was in a pond between the alligator and duck pond exhibits. Near the center of the zoo, Monkey Island featured a small-scale fantasy castle inhabited by a troupe of live monkeys. It was quite a spectacle with monkeys climbing all over the castle structure.

As best as I can tell, Monkey Island was constructed sometime before WWII as a part of a WPA project that included many structures at the Zoo and Livingston Park. I believe Hubert Carmichael was director at the time. Like many of the older zoo structures, Monkey Island was made from sandstone quarried near Raymond, MS.

For a long time there was a rumor the zoo shut down Monkey Island because someone with tuberculosis spit into the water and infected all the monkeys. This isn't true. The Zoo moved the monkeys off Monkey Island sometime before 1980 because it was no longer safe to enter the inside of the castle where the monkey's night-time cages were held. Originally, zoo keepers entered the castle from a hidden entrance in the duck pond, through a tunnel that opened inside the castle. When the exhibit was no longer suitable for holding monkeys, the zoo started exhibiting pink flamingos there since entrance to the castle wasn't necessary.

Many people don't realize the clever way the zoo used water. Near Capitol street there was a well, which happened to be the highest point of elevation in the zoo. From the well, water flowed to the old sea lion exhibit, then to the alligator exhibit, monkey island and finally to the duck ponds where waste water exited the zoo into the sewers.

Monkey Island was one of my favorite memories from childhood. So much has changed over the years that I'd like to build a scale model of Monkey Island as it originally appeared.

If you have any information or especially photographs of Monkey Island, please contact me at:

Visit the Jackson Zoo Website:


Sandi said...

Now that takes me back. That was one of my favorite exhibits at the zoo when I was a kid.
Good post.

Cool C said...

So many childhood memories with mama and maw maw there. I had always heard the monkeys died of disease growing up. I don't know. I remember a carnival coming every year to Livingston park. I remember people swimming in the lake before they filled it in. They had those foot paddle boats you could use. I remember riding the train through the tunnel. I grew up around there in the Georgetown district. It is a shame the thugs and you know what, had to take over and turn it all to slum.