From Ohio History Central
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden resulted from an infestation of caterpillars. In 1872, caterpillars descended upon Cincinnati, supposedly devouring all vegetation within the city. Andrew Erkenbrecher and several other prominent residents created the Society of the Acclimatization of Birds. This organization purchased approximately one thousand birds from Europe, shipped them to Cincinnati, and housed the birds in a building. In 1873, members of the society released the birds, hoping that the animals would devour the caterpillar population. That same year, the Society of the Acclimatization of Birds changed its name to the Zoological Society of Cincinnati.
The Zoological Society of Cincinnati found support from some of the wealthiest men in the city. With the support of these men, the organization established a zoo, consisting of just over sixty-six acres in Blakely Woods. The Zoological Society did not own the land; rather the organization received a ninety-nine year lease for the property. On September 18, 1875, the Cincinnati Zoological Garden (now known as the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden) opened its doors. The zoo's collection was very small, originally consisting of just eight monkeys, two grizzly bears, three deer, six raccoons, two elk, a buffalo, a hyena, a tiger, an alligator, a circus elephant, and over four hundred birds, including a talking crow. The zoo grew very slowly during the late 1800s and faced extreme financial difficulties. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden eventually purchased the sixty-six acres of land, further straining the organization's budget. In 1898, Cincinnati residents donated enough money to the zoo to save it from bankruptcy.