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ZOO TIMELINE

1892

The Zoo is established as a miniature mammal and bird display in Milwaukee’s Washington Park.

1902

Through continuous growth, the zoo expands to 800 animals on 23 acres of land.

1934

The Zoo becomes a Milwaukee County Park Commission entity, gaining the resources it needs to grow and prosper.

1958

The Zoo moves to its present location on a 200-acre wooded parkland (near the Milwaukee interchange of Highways 94 and 45).

1958 — 1968

New buildings are created including the Primate building, Aquarium/Reptile building, Australian buildings and Winter Quarters. New habitats are created including Monkey Island, Grizzly Bear, Polar Bear, Brown Bear, Feline, Pachyderm, Giraffe, Bird and Small Mammals.  

1970s

New additions include the Children's Zoo, Dall Sheep Exhibit, Train Shed, Zoo Hospital, Zoo Pride and Gift Shop. 

1985

An expansion/renovation master plan is initiated to address the growing needs of the zoo operation. Expansions include Wolf Woods, Polar Bear exhibit, Sea Lion exhibit, Dairy Complex and Peck Welcome Center. 

1992

$10.7 million dollar Apes of Africa primate facility opens housing western lowland gorillas and bonobos in a West African rain forest-themed exhibit.

1995

$3.3 million dollar newly renovated Aquatic & Reptile Center opens, featuring a 28,000-gallon Pacific Coast Marine Aquarium and Lake Wisconsin display.

2001 — 2008

$30 million dollar New Zoo II Capital Campaign, funded by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, supports capital improvements.

2002

Japanese macaques are introduced to their renovated outdoor Macaque Island exhibit that provides new and higher climbing areas. 

2003

The Animal Health Center, made possible by Milwaukee County, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee, the Gretchen and Andrew Dawes Charitable Trust and the Holz Family Foundation, is completed. The center accommodates waterfowl and warm-and-cold-climate animals, plus allows public observation. 

2004

The Karen Peck Katz Conservation Education Center is completed.  

2005

$7.2 million dollar Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country opens, showcasing jaguars and young African lions.

Newly renovated Northwestern Mutual Family Farm, formerly the Children’s Zoo, opens allowing visitors to interact with native wildlife and farm animals.

New Stackner Animal Encounter Building and Bird of Prey Theater opens providing daily educational presentations.

2008

The Zoo welcomes a flock of Caribbean flamingos, which take up residence in their lush Idabel Wilmot Borchert Flamingo Exhibit and Overlook. 

A new front entrance mall, The U.S. Bank Gathering Place, is unveiled featuring a light-filled atrium, café, counter-style snack bar, coffee shop, gift shop and customer service areas. This building marks the final project of the New Zoo II Capital Campaign. 

2011

New outdoor bonobo exhibit opens providing these rare great apes 500 feet of elevated mesh passageways.

2012

Completed the renovated entrance to the Northwestern Mutual Farm

Completion of the first phase of Black Bear Exhibit improvements, made possible by a MillerCoors donation

Completion of the first planning phase of a new 20-year Zoo master plan, addressing improvements in animal exhibits, visitor attractions, service facilities and operations

2013

Installed a new emergency broadcast system on Zoo grounds

Continued improvements to the Black Bear Exhibit with focus on water conservation

Completion of the master plan proposal by Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets, Inc. (PGAV); will serve as a guide for the Zoo for the next 20 years

2014

Moved forward on plans for the new auxiliary west entrance and adjacent parking lots.  Plans include construction of a new outdoor North American River Otter Exhibit

2015

Renovation of the Outdoor Gorilla Exhibit
               
Began design of “Adventure Africa” Phase I:  Elephant Exhibit

Partnered with Goodwill Industries for the high school transition-to-work program, Project SEARCH

Installation of Mamava Lactation Suites; 3 comfortable and private areas for nursing mothers to use when visiting the Zoo

2016

“Adventure Africa” Phase I: Elephant Exhibit design phase completed and demolition began.

Commissioned an economic impact study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Department of Economics.

Zoo has an estimated $155 million impact to the four-county area that includes: Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha.

Initiated composting partnership with local urban farming organization, Blue Ribbon Organics.

2017

The Zoo celebrated its 125th anniversary.

West Entrance parking completed; further construction progressed on the North American River Otter Exhibit.

Site demolition began for “Adventure Africa” Phase I: Elephant Exhibit.

2018

Master plan project finishing work was completed for Adventure Africa Phase I: Elephant Exhibit and additional mixed species exhibits, Impala Plains and African Forest.

Accreditation was granted to the Zoo by the AZA Accreditation Commission, undergoing a thorough review of animal care and welfare, veterinary programs, conservation education and safety.

During the year’s Governor’s Conference on Tourism, the Zoo was the recipient of the 2018 Governor’s Tourism Stewardship Award for ongoing sustainability and conservations efforts; MCZ contributes 3% of the operating budget toward conservation and research efforts through field conservation, education, staff programs and green practices.

2019

Adventure Africa Phase I: Elephant Exhibit and additional mixed species exhibits, Impala Plains and African Forest opened May 4.

A new animal encounter program, Wild Connections, began in the summer, giving visitors the opportunity to go behind the scenes for an up-close look at the animals. This revenue-generating program lets guests see the animals in a more personal way, and even more significantly, allows for a one-of-a-kind “conservation connection” with threatened and endangered species, among others.

In November, African elephant Belle arrived from Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in South Carolina. At 38-years-old, Belle was considered a good fit for integrating with resident elephants, Brittany and Ruth, who are 38. After a period of training and acclimation, the tree elephants are now living as a cohesive group.

2020

The year 2020 was certainly a challenging time for the Zoo, like so many other organizations and institutions, as we confronted a global pandemic.

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Zoo closed for three months – from mid-March through mid-June. Due to the persistent and dedicated work of so many staff, we were able to reopen with limited capacity. We also faced the cancellation of almost all special events and programming for the Zoo and the Zoological Society.

The Dohmen Family Foundation Hippo Haven, which serves as Phase II of Adventure Africa, opened in June. The exhibit was 10+ years in the making and the Milwaukee County Zoo is now one of 12 zoos in the country to display hippos underwater. The 60,000-gallon underwater viewing pool and expanded land habitat were well received by visitors and hippos alike.

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