Sedgwick County Zoo was established by the volunteer efforts of civic-minded citizens who formed the Sedgwick County Zoological Society in 1963, many years before the Zoo would take shape. They lobbied the Sedgwick County commissioners and through a petition succeeded in getting a bond referendum on the ballot. After it passed in 1966, the real work began. A visionary director, Ronald L. Blakely, presented a master plan that was approved in 1969 and construction began in earnest. When the American and Asian farms opened as the only exhibits in 1971, families were pleased, but they had little idea of the great things that were in store.
The Zoo has seen steady progress through the past three decades with major exhibits opening every few years. In 1974 The Herpetarium opened. The Jungle in 1977, the South American Pampas and Australian Outback exhibits in 1980 the Apes and Man Building in 1982 and the African Farm in 1982 were a few of the highlights. With Ronald L. Blakely’s retirement in 1991 and selection of Executive Director Mark C. Reed, an era of change was initiated. Major effort went into improving the infrastructure of the Zoo and enhancing the existing exhibits. New areas opened including the North American Prairie in 1993, the Koch Orangutan and Chimpanzee Habitat in 1996, the Oliver Animal Hospital and the Pride of the Plains, both in 2000. Flamingos began welcoming guests near the entrance in 2001. The Zoo Entrance received a facelift in 2002 and The Downing Gorilla Forest opened to record-setting crowds in 2004 with 591,687 guests.
The newly expanded Cargill Learning Center, completed in 2006, kept all the existing space of the previous building (reconfiguring a few areas) and added square footage to the south and the west toward the Zoo Entrance and the Asian Farm. The 15,000 square foot learning center boasts four permanent classrooms, a large auditorium, a library, interior and exterior gathering places and a channel that connects the learning center to the interior of the Zoo.
In 2007 new residents arrived. They’re popular, much sought-after and look spiffy in black and white. They're Humboldt penguins and they call Cessna Penguin Cove their home at Sedgwick County Zoo. Again the animals received a warm welcome with 591,697 guests that year. As the number of visiting guests has grown, so has the need for quality food choices and spaces to eat. A new restaurant now stands in the Zoo’s Central Plaza. The Plaza Beastro includes expanded indoor and outdoor eating areas, a larger pond and new landscaping. The Plaza Beastro opened in April 2008.
In 2009 the Zoo opened an eagerly awaited, world-class tiger exhibit the Slawson Family Tiger Trek. The Zoo had received a donation of one million dollars and a challenge grant to begin the development of this new Asian tiger exhibit. The Zoo met the challenge to raise the second million and the donor provided the additional third million needed to complete the exhibit. Boasting both Malayan and Amur tigers as well as a red panda and Burmese brow-antlered deer, the Slawson Family Tiger Trek is a wonderful addition to the Sedgwick County Zoo that allows our guests a glimpse into the majestic world of these incredible cats. Sedgwick County Zoo set a new record for annual attendance in 2009 with 654,494 guests.
What's next you might ask. The Zoo is setting it's sights on a new Zoo Entrance, new elephant management complex and much, much more. We will celebrate 40 years for Sedgwick County Zoo in 2001, so stick around it sure to be a growling good time.