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The Pawnee Zoo was founded sometime in the 1850s or earlier and is one of the oldest zoos in North America, with over 250 species of animals on display. In 1914, a Jewish ornithologist was mistakenly placed in the zoo when the mayor, who had never seen a Jewish person before, thought he was a some kind of alien creature. He was later released with a full apology. Similar incidents apparently also occurred with Catholic, Amish, and Unitarian people.
In 2009, Leslie Knope accidentally "married" two gay male penguins in the zoo in the episode "Pawnee Zoo", earning her support from the town's gay community and outrage from the Society for Family Stability Foundation. Leslie ultimately relocated the penguins to Iowa, where gay marriage is legal.
The zoo is also the location of Li'l Sebastian's memorial site.