Two Saint Louis NGO’s Making an Impact on the World and Increasing St. Louis’ Collective Intelligence

The Zoo and Garden are great places in which to enjoy some beautiful animals and plants, hang out, and have fun. However, what is often under-appreciated and rarely discussed, is how much good work they perform that matters to the whole world through their research and conservation arms.

The St. Louis Zoo and Missouri Botanical Garden are well known throughout both the St. Louis region and elsewhere. However, many people – including many St. Louisans – are not aware of the tremendous role these institutions play in making the world a better place, and in increasing the competitiveness and attractiveness of the St. Louis region.

This article attempts to bridge this gap, showing why these institutions matter not just as places of amusement and urban oases, but how and why they matter to the world. The attention they garner in the scientific and philanthropical communities increases the region’s name recognition for other scientific and giving endeavors.

Moreover, by serving as places concentrating scientific expertise and focused on solving real-world, important challenges, they also increase the region’s collective intelligence in a way that is likely to spill over to commercial developments and increase economic complexity.

This article provides an overview of the respective missions of these two important institutions in St. Louis. In our follow up articles we look at the different research institutions housed under the Saint Louis Zoo and Missouri Botanical Garden, and finally we discuss how their work impacts the whole world and our own regional economy.

St. Louis Zoo

The St. Louis Zoo officially started with the formation of the Zoological Society of St. Louis in 1910; however, some of the Zoo’s habitats, such as the Cypress Swamp walk-through aviary, date to the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition (St. Louis World’s Fair) of 1904. The Zoo’s mission is to conserve animals and their habitats through animal management, research, recreation, and educational programs that encourage the support and enrich the experience of the public.

In the early 1970’s, the Zoo gained the support of sales tax revenue from City and County residents. This funding enabled award-winning renovations and significant growth in the Zoo’s education and conservation efforts.

In addition to the Zoo’s historic campus in Forest Park, it has acquired and is in the process of building out a 425-acre second campus, which will also serve as an animal breeding area. Named the Wildcare Park and located in an unincorporated area of Spanish Lake, Missouri, in north St. Louis County, it will be open to the general public in 2027.

Missouri Botanical Garden

The Missouri Botanical Garden (aka, Shaw’s Garden) is another beloved St. Louis civic institution. Located adjacent to Tower Grove Park, it was founded by Henry Shaw, a prominent St. Louis businessman, in 1859. It is one of the United States’ oldest botanical gardens and a National Historic Landmark.

The Garden’s mission is driven by the need to protect and conserve plants and their ecosystems. It “seeks to inspire all members of our local region about the benefits of being good environmental stewards through responsible and sustainable use of natural resources.”

In addition to the 79-acre site in south St. Louis, the Garden maintains and operates two other properties outside city limits:

  1. The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House, which is located in Chesterfield’s Faust Park and established in 1995 to increase the awareness of the natural habitat in which butterflies thrive. The Butterfly House is an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited site. In 2002, it began participating in the Butterfly Conservation Initiative (BFCI), an AZA-sponsored program dedicated to the conservation of threatened and endangered butterfly species. Program objectives include supporting these species’ recovery and increasing public awareness and involvement in local and regional butterfly conservation efforts. In 2003, the Butterfly House became the first dedicated insect facility to be accredited by the AZA, a rigorous process that takes place every five years.
  2. The 2400-acre Shaw Nature Reserve, located in Gray Summit, Missouri, which was established in 1925 to protect the Garden’s plant collection from the smoke pollution of that era (At the time, soft coal was used extensively for both industrial and home-heating use). Since then, it has become a premier educational, research, and habitat restoration and reconstruction site.

Building Intellectual Capital in St. Louis

Moreover, these two organizations build intellectual capital in the St. Louis metro area, providing a more fertile environment from which other organizations and commercial enterprises, including startups, sometimes germinate and sprout. Indeed, many of St. Louis’ Agtech and Bioscience enterprises are probably choosing St. Louis as their headquarters because of the intellectual resources originating with the Zoo and Garden over many years.