Cosley Zoo has a vibrant history, one that demonstrates its continued dedication to creating connections between people and animals that will inspire lifelong conservation of the natural world.
2.65 acres of land were donated by Paula Jones to the Wheaton Park District. Ms. Jones wanted to save the land from development, and donated it in memory of Harvey Cosley, the previous landowner and a close relative (after whom the zoo is named).
The zoo—then called Cosley Children’s park and Museum—opened on August 17, 1974. On opening day the zoo displayed a handful of domestic farm animals. Within a few short months, the zoo began exhibiting native wildlife. After about two years of operation, the zoo changed its name to Cosley Animal Farm and Museum.
An 1800s barn, was moved from St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Wheaton to the zoo.
Railroad tracks were laid in front of the train station and a retired Burlington railroad caboose was brought in to sit on the tracks.
Federal revenue sharing funds made it possible to enlarge Cosley Zoo by two acres. This area was eventually expanded into habitats for wildlife.
The park built an aviary to house 13 varieties of pheasants as well as ruffed grouse, doves and several other birds. Today, the aviary houses native birds and turtles.
With money coming in from successful fund-raising, the Wheaton Park District organized a support group called The Cosley Foundation to utilize the funds for capital developments. The Cosley Foundation, Inc. is officially recognized as a 501(C)3 not for profit foundation. Since its inception, The Cosley Foundation has consistently raised $130,000 to $150,000 annually. The foundation has sponsored the construction of the Vern Kiebler Learning Center, a 66,000 gallon duck pond, an amphitheater, and exhibits for red foxes, coyotes, raccoons, rabbits, white-tailed deer and raptors.
The Vern Kiebler Learning Center was completed. This $356,000 facility was built to house most of the domestic farm animals, and to provide feed storage areas, hospital and isolation rooms, and office space. It also includes a large indoor area for educational programs and special events. With the construction of the barn in 1987 the zoo could be kept open year-round.
A complete renovation of the wildlife area began, eliminating concrete and wire cages and providing more natural habitats.
As Cosley Animal Farm and Museum grew and changed, the name was no longer an accurate representation of the facility. In conjunction with its 25th anniversary in 1999, the staff and Wheaton Park District board of commissioners decided unanimously to change its name to Cosley Zoo.
Cosley Zoo pursued accreditation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). After completion of a very extensive application process, Cosley Zoo received official accreditation from AZA in March of 2000. Accreditation confirms that Cosley Zoo meets the high standards put forth by this organization. Facilities must re-apply for accreditation every five years.
Cosley Zoo became partners with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in the Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Project. This project was developed to repopulate the Illinois threatened Blanding’s Turtle in DuPage County. The zoo’s primary responsibility is the rearing of turtles for release.
Cosley Zoo zookeeping staff began working with a consultant to establish an operant conditioning training program for the zoo’s animals. Zookeeper staff is now able to perform many animal husbandry tasks during which the animals voluntarily participate in their own care, greatly reducing stress improving safety for both the animals and the keepers.
A large addition to the train station was completed, providing a larger gift shop, additional washrooms, and new concessions.
The Cosley Foundation began a new capital campaign to fund the bobcat exhibit. The campaign was kicked off by a generous donation of $250,000 contributed by Jan Kiebler. The zoo was able to utilize this contribution for a successful matching campaign.
Cosley Zoo became involved in another conservation partnership to benefit the Illinois endangered barn owl. Working with several facilities, Cosley Zoo staff hatched, reared and released these unique and beneficial birds of prey. Partners in this endeavor included the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, City of Itasca’s Springbrook Nature Center, and McHenry County Conservation District.