Abandoned Zoo–Nay Aug Park

All pictures by Cheri Sundra

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, this structure has been a symbol of community debate  about animal cruelty for decades, first as the failed Nay Aug Park Zoo and most recently as the Genesis Wildlife Center.

The original Zoo opened in 1920 and was a source of civic pride. In 1924 and 1935, schoolchildren raised money to purchase new elephants, one penny at a time.

Empty Elephant House

During its heyday, the Nay Aug Park Zoo was visited on average by 500 people per day during the mid-1950s.

People began questioning the conditions at the zoo in the early 1960s. In 1963, the Humane Society of Lackawanna County blasted the Zoological society for its approach to renovating the heating system at the zoo, in addition to the leaky roof and a drafty tiger and lion cage. That was a bad year for the zoo because an elk gored a baby elk to death, a monkey escaped and bit a zoo attendant and four monkeys died from exposure because of insufficient heat, in addition a to a female lion killing two cubs because a faulty door allowed her to enter their cage.

Abandoned Zoo Cage

The history of animal tragedies at Nay Aug Park Zoo just goes on from there, with stories about animal escapes and abuse by visitors, in addition to other animal mishaps resulting in injury or death.

In 1983, the Humane Society of the United States named the zoo as one of the nation’s 10 most substandard zoos noting “the exhibits at the Scranton Zoo are so outdated and sterile that there can be no understanding of the animals’ natural behaviors.” Even the zoo’s newest exhibits were deemed “archaic” by the standards of modern zoology at that time.

While the Nay Aug Park Zoo was home to more than 200 animals during the 1960s, by the end of 1989 the only animals that remained were two bears and an elephant because the zoo was in debt and struggling financially.

Abandoned Elephant House

When the last animal, Toni the elephant, was finally relocated to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., it was acknowledged that it had been unsuitable for an elephant to be kept without any peers and that the animal had developed arthritis in the lower joint of her left leg because she was forced to stand in a concrete pen all day. The elephant was eventually euthanized because of this condition.

Learn more about Toni the elephant here:

nationalzoo.si.edu/Publications/PressMat erials/PressRelea…

The zoo structure remained closed until the summer of 2003, reopening as a wildlife rehabilitation center. In 2009, the zoo closed again due to public outcry after Time Magazine ranked the Genesis Wildlife Center as the 4th most abusive zoo in the United States in 2008.

The city of Scranton recently announced plans to convert this structure for public use:
thetimes-tribune.com/news/plans-call-for -opening-former-n…

I’m sure that in the 1920’s the zoo was a fine example of a zoo during that time period. But it could never be anything but a 1920s-style zoo. While I was taking these pictures, a group a students on a field trip walked by. I heard a little boy, probably in about second grade, ask his teacher what I was doing. “Taking pictures of the elephant house”, she responded. “They made an elephant live in there?” he asked. When she answered “yes”, he shook his head and said, “That’s just wrong.” No one disagreed with him.





Have Yourself A Merry Little Abandoned Zoo Christmas

Have Yourself a Merry Little Abandoned Zoo Christmas {EXPLORE}
An Abandoned Zoo Christmas:  the remains of the Elephant House, Nay Aug Park Zoo, Scranton Pennsylvania
Have Yourself A Merry Little Abandoned Zoo Christmas


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Imprint from wall of Nay Aug Park Elephant House


Cheri Sundra © 2010
All Rights Reserved

    • Harry Gaul
    • June 26th, 2011

    Love all of your work; thanks Cheri for the memories and bringing attention to these former hay days.

    Sad but true that many of those hazy crazy days of summer with pretzels and beer.. and fun at those parks we went to as kids are all gone !!
    Too Many Corporate Giants have squashed out the small time operators .. Like Disney, Universal, Bush Gardens, ect.

  1. I love the connection between this zoo and the one in LA. This has many more buildings still standing, very much more interesting. Thanks for sharing on my blog!! http://www.moderndayruins.com/2008/01/griffith-park-zoo.html

    • terrance stanton, liverpool pa 17045
    • October 21st, 2018

    Much appreciated history of where I visited as a child in 50’s. I believe two of the tigers at T&D’s Cats Animal Refuge, Penn’s Creek, PA are from there. The two tigers are finishing their lives in an acre enclosure with trees, field, bushes, creek. Please visit in the spring. Most cats, primates, other mammals, exotic birds there have had terrible past lives and two generations of the Mattive family are devoted to giving them a comfortable end of life to their previous suffering. http://tdscats.com/Visit.html

    • John
    • January 20th, 2020

    Do you recall the name of that huge tiger at the zoo in 2009

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