A Family Tradition

The Caldwell Zoo was founded by a visionary who loved children and admired the majesty of nature. DK Caldwell also believed in “learning through fun.” In 1953, he and his wife Lottie opened the Children’s Zoo and Play School as a gift to the Tyler community.

DK spent much of his adult life working outdoors as a civil engineer. His vocation led him from Alabama, through Louisiana and into East Texas. At the end of his career, he settled in the quaint town of Tyler, where his philanthropic endeavors flourished.

DK observed children’s fascination with animals. What began as a simple collection of “Easter bunnies and ducklings” evolved into a more exotic menagerie. As the collection of animals grew, more suitable facilities became necessary. 125 acres in the rollings hills of northeast Texas were donated to the zoo, new facilities were built, and the animals were moved to the current location. Over the years, the zoo has increased in scope and popularity as a treasured resource for the families of east Texas and beyond.

Community development is a Caldwell family tradition. Hayes Caldwell, DK’s nephew, practically grew up on the grounds and worked at the zoo every summer. After earning a degree in Park Management from Texas Tech University, Hayes took over as the zoo’s Executive Director in 1976. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to modernize and improve all aspects of the zoo experience.

As the Caldwell Zoo approaches its 75th anniversary, it continues to evolve in stature and influence. With over 3,000 animals in its care, the zoo is an active leader in conservation programs that directly benefit both native species and endangered animals around the globe.

The Beginning


Species Survival Plan
Saving Animals From Extinction
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