Nashville Zoo at Grassmere

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Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
Date opened1990, as Grassmere Wildlife Park[1]
Location3777 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Coordinates36°05′21.1″N 86°44′37.4″W / 36.089194°N 86.743722°W / 36.089194; -86.743722Coordinates: 36°05′21.1″N 86°44′37.4″W / 36.089194°N 86.743722°W / 36.089194; -86.743722
Land area188 acres (76 ha)[1][2]
No. of animals6,230[2]
No. of species339[2]
Annual visitors964,760[3]
MembershipsAssociation of Zoos and Aquariums[4][5]
DirectorJulie W. Walker[3]
(Board chair)
Rick Schwartz[3]
(President and CEO)
Joe deGraauw[3]
(Avian curator)

Dale McGinnity[3]
(Ectotherm curator)
Jacqueline Menish[3]
(Curator of Behavioral husbandry)
Heather Robertson[3]
(Director of Veterinary services)
Jeffrie Hunter[3]
(Director of Facilities)

Public transit accessNashville MTA logo Bus transport 52

The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere is a zoological garden and historic plantation farmhouse located 6 miles (9.7 km) southeast of Downtown Nashville. As of 2014, the zoo was middle Tennessee's top paid attraction and contained 6,230 individual animals, encompassing 339 species. The zoo's site is approximately 188 acres (76 ha) in size. It is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


The Historic Grassmere Home

Dunn farm[edit]

Nashville Zoo is located on property that was once a 300-acre slave holding farm owned by Michael and Elizabeth Dunn.[6] The Dunn's original home, built in 1810 through slave labor, is still located on the property. Margaret and Elise Croft, the great-great granddaughters of Michael Dunn, the original owner, were the last of the family to live at this location.[7][8] In 1989, archaeologists evaluating the property for its archaeological resources discovered an unmarked cemetery fairly close to Grassmere's entrance off of Nolensville Road.[9] When construction for the zoo began in 1997, this graveyard was not disturbed. It was only in 2013 when a newer entry plaza was planned did the zoo petition to have the bodies exhumed and their remains moved closer to the historic Dunn house by the state archaeologist. This exhumation revealed 9 to 30 African-Americans who had been buried there.[10][11]

Grassmere Wildlife Park[edit]

The Croft sisters deeded the land and family home to the Children's Museum of Nashville in 1964,[12] with the agreement the house would remain and the land would be used as a 'nature study center.'[8][13] After Elise's death in 1985,[14] the museum began work on this nature study center, calling it Grassmere Wildlife Park.[15][16]

Nashville Zoo[edit]

In December 1994, Grassmere Wildlife Park closed.[17] The city of Nashville took over ownership of the property in 1995 and began searching for an independent organization to manage the property.[18] Meanwhile, the Nashville Zoo had opened as a separate, privately owned facility in Joelton, Tennessee, in May 1991.[19] In June 1996, then-Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen proposed that either the Nashville Zoo be relocated from its Joelton location to Grassmere, or Grassmere be converted to a city park without animals.[20] In October 1996, the Nashville City Council approved the terms of a lease agreement for Nashville Zoo to relocate to Grassmere.[21]

The Nashville Zoo remained open in Joelton. In May 1997, the Nashville Wildlife Park at Grassmere opened.[22] Both the Zoo and the wildlife park remained open, but due to public confusion, the Zoo closed their Joelton site in October 1998 and focused completely on the Grassmere location.[23]


In 2019, the Nashville Zoo supported nearly 50 conservation programs from local projects involving the endangered Nashville crayfish to global priorities relating to the illegal trade of wildlife. Coral Rescue: Approximately 12 AZA Zoos are building or have built biosecure areas to keep these corals alive and propagate them. The Nashville Zoo will hold 45 large priority specimens, and video graphics will tell the story to guests entering the hospital. This new exhibit/conservation center will be completed in early 2020, and the exhibit at the Nashville Zoo will have underwater viewing.

Wildlife Trafficking: The Nashville Zoo is a Platinum Partner within the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) and R. Schwartz, CEO serves on the Advisory Council. The WTA is a coalition of more than 70 leading companies, non-profit organizations, and AZA facilities working together to reduce the purchase and sale of illegal wildlife products. The goals of this program are to raise the public’s awareness of the scope of the wildlife trafficking crisis, change the behaviors of consumers to reduce the demand of these products and to mobilize companies to adopt best practices to assure that their goods and services to not involve illegal wildlife traffickers and again reduce the demand of the products by their consumers.

Hellbender: The Nashville Zoo is working to save a genetically distinct and declining population of eastern hellbenders, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, in the Duck River watershed. Work in the Duck River watershed includes a headstart/augmentation program, habitat improvement, and additional surveys (with both traditional techniques and utilizing eDNA). Approximately 200 hellbenders collected from three different nests were collected over 4 years from the Duck River watershed are being head-started for release in our native aquatic conservation center. Zoo staff also built and placed nest boxes in the streams that are being proposed as release sites. TWRA has been working with the Nashville Zoo and several Universities in Tennessee to develop the first State Recovery Plan for hellbenders which was completed in March 2020. This will be the first state recovery plan for any amphibian species in Tennessee.

Nashville Crayfish: The Nashville Zoo received a Cooperative Agreement from the USFWS to develop and implement long term monitoring protocols for the federally endangered Nashville crayfish in the Mill Creek watershed in 2011. Long term population monitoring for this species is a recommendation in the USFWS Recovery Plan for the Nashville Crayfish and it is important to determine the status of the species over time. The protocols were developed by Nashville Zoo staff in collaboration with TDEC, and USFWS personnel from the Cookeville field office. The novel monitoring protocols that were developed had a very limited impact on crayfish populations but still produced statistically significant results. This project was completed in 2016 and documented large numbers of Crayfish at four sampling sites with increasing species densities at the more upstream sites.

Cheetah Conservation: Zoo staff has been assisting with the care of these confiscated cheetahs by acting as one of the veterinary consultants, utilizing their cheetah expertise. Overall, Nashville Zoo has been supporting the Somaliland-CCF cheetah efforts through donations of medications and equipment. In September of 2019, with the support of the Nashville Zoo, a veterinary team traveled to Somaliland to assist with the health assessment of 30 cheetahs. During their time there, they fully examined the cheetahs at the safe house as well as evaluating and developing preventative care protocols and assisted in the training of local veterinarians. Based on the findings of the exams, improved nutrition, and preventative medicine protocols were set in place. Asa Wright Nature Centre: The Nashville Zoo continues to support the conservation efforts in Trinidad, at the Asa Wright Nature Centre, along with spearheading several in-situ programs focusing on the iconic Oilbird, Steatornis caripensis, and the numerous Neotropical bat taxa found on the island.

Loggerhead Shrike: In 2019, the Nashville Zoo Avian Department expanded its role in loggerhead shrike, Lanius ludovicianus, conservation on several fronts. In their seventh year of working with the species, they continued their role in participating in field counts in several middle Tennessee counties as well as partnering with Southeast Avian Research to capture and band a handful of these rare birds. As well, they acquired their first breeding pair of birds. The pair hatched and successfully raised two offspring which were later released into the wild, with other fledglings, at the Carden, Ontario field area.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Headstart: The Alligator Snapping Turtle Headstart and Release program was initiated in 2016. The Nashville Zoo received a four-year grant to collect eggs and the headstart/grow alligator snapping turtles, Macrochelys temminckii, to a size that they will likely not be predated upon when released. This takes three to four years of growth. The Zoo has raised turtles for release and transferred the largest individuals back to TWRA which has not started releasing specimens yet. Post-release monitoring will determine the success of the program long term. In addition, the Nashville Zoo staff is continuing to conduct surveys for this species in Tennessee to help ensure the survival of these prehistoric animals.

Streamside Salamander: The Nashville Zoo Herpetology department developed a conservation initiative for the state endangered streamside salamander, Ambystoma barbouri, in the Mill Creek watershed during 2016 in collaboration with TWRA and TEDEC. This population of the State endangered salamander is rapidly becoming extinct due to new housing developments in the few intermittent streams that the species still inhabited. The project included collecting a genetically diverse group of larvae from sites that were being developed. These sites no longer contain this species and the Zoo is maintaining a captive assurance colony of these animals for eventual reintroduction. This species has not been bred while in captive care and zoo staff will attempt to reproduce this slowly maturing species when they are ready. In addition, researchers at Belmont University are currently conducting DNA work that will help determine the best way to manage this unique species.

Flamingos of South America: Nashville Zoo staff joined the founders of Centro de Estudios en Biología Teórica y Aplicada (BIOTA), the La Paz Zoo, along with a group of local Bolivian high school students at Laguna Colorada for an annual flamingo banding project. Each year BIOTA leads efforts to protect the remaining populations and habitats of the flamingos of the Altiplano, located over 14,000 feet above sea level. Laguna Colorada is the single most important nesting site for these high-Andean flamingos. The program involves numerous volunteers that conduct bird counts, banding of chicks, and gathering information on the population of the three flamingo species that nest in the region, The James, Phoenicoparrus jamesi, Andean, P. andinus, and Chilean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus chilensis. In 2019 the group banded several James flamingos, recorded weights and measurements on about 70 chicks, and released them back to their nesting site. Along with gathering information on the bird populations, having the students assist in the project encourages the next generation to develop an interest and appreciation for their local fauna and learn about the impact they can have on their environment. BIOTA works with the energy and mining companies of Bolivia to track the migration patterns of these rare flamingos and also monitor the birds for environmental toxins. The satellite tracking of birds allows Rocha and Aguilar to generate known flight patterns that assist in the safer construction of proposed power lines.


  1. ^ a b "About the Zoo". Nashville Zoo. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
  2. ^ a b c Gang, Duane W. (July 6, 2014). "How long has the zoo been at Grassmere?" (Vol.110. No.185). The Tennessean (Nashville). p. 8–A. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Nashville Zoo 2017 Annual Report" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved 5 November 2010.
  5. ^ "Association of Zoos and Aquariums/current accreditation". AZA. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  6. ^ Sproul, Kate (May 2017). "Historical Research on the Enslaved People at Grassmere". Interpreting Grassmere's Enslaved Community: Archaeological Approaches to Public History at the Nashville Zoo (Master's thesis). Murfreesboro, TN: Middle Tennessee State University. pp. 30–34. Document No. 10262513ProQuest 1900913025 – via ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  7. ^ "Grassmere Collection, 1786-1985". Tennessee State Library and Archives. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Croft house turns 200". The Tennessean. 2010-05-28. pp. N10. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  9. ^ Reigel, Veronica A; Breitburg, Emanuel (1989). A Historical, Architectural, and Archaeological Assessment of the Grassmere Property, Nashville, Tennessee. Cumberland Museums. OCLC 21616425.
  10. ^ "Early Tax Lists of Tennessee", United States Census, 1783-1895; Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, TN; roll Davidson County microfilm roll #3,.
  11. ^ Cass, Michael (25 January 2014). "Old graves at Nashville Zoo may present dilemma". The Tennessean.
  12. ^ Deed Book. 3765. Nashville, TN: Metro Nashville Archives, Davidson County, TN. 21 May 1964. pp. 248–254.
  13. ^ "Deed from Margaret and Elise Croft to Nashville Children's Museum". Tennessee State Library and Archives. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  14. ^ Davidson County Will Book. 150. Nashville, TN: Metro Nashville Archives. April 30, 1985. p. 815.
  15. ^ Connolly, Patrick (1989-09-14). "Into the wild". The Tennessean. p. 43. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  16. ^ Byron, Janet (1990-06-03). "Life's a jungle". The Tennessean. p. 21. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  17. ^ Carter, Rochelle (1994-12-17). "Grassmere to close for study of services". The Tennessean. p. 1. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  18. ^ Ippolito, Mark (1995-07-07). "Potential bidders express interest in Grassmere". The Tennessean. p. 17. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  19. ^ Straight, Cathy (1991-05-16). "Nashville Zoo roars open for big weekend". The Tennessean. p. 31. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  20. ^ "Grassmere's sad chapter". The Tennessean. 1996-05-27. p. 11. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  21. ^ Ippolito, Mark (1996-10-01). "Some hope traffic won't come with zoo". The Tennessean. p. 15. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  22. ^ "Grassmere". The Daily News-Journal. 1997-05-25. p. 64. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  23. ^ Ferguson, Carrie (1998-08-25). "Nashville Zoo closing its doors early". The Tennessean. p. 1. Retrieved 2018-08-30.

External links[edit]

Media related to Nashville Zoo at Wikimedia Commons