Milwaukee County Zoo

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The Milwaukee County Zoo has been in the community for the past 126 years! The zoo aims to promote an appreciation for all animals and to support the conservation of the diverse habitats that the animals call home. Today the zoo is home to more than 3,100 mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles over a span of 190 wooded acres. The Milwaukee County Zoo’s mission is to “inspire public understanding, support and participation in global conservation of animal species and their environment by creating a unifying bond between our visitors and our living earth and provide an environment for personal renewal and enjoyment for our guests…" [1]

The Milwaukee County Zoo is open year round, hours and fees vary throughout the year. The zoo’s website offers directions to the zoo, hours and fees, and a link to web cams set up across the zoo for people to view live feeds of the animals. Visitors can buy tickets right off the website or at the gate. Map of the zoo are available with a key for all visitors to help find their way through the zoo.


West Park Zoo began in 1892 with a small bird and a mammal exhibit in a barn. The Milwaukee Park Commission hired Frederick Law Olmstead for the undertaking of the park. Olmstead was a renowned landscaper and architect, who famously designed New York’s Central Park. Olmstead had envisioned and planned for an open meadow, wooded areas with a variety of trees, a seven-acre lake, and an aquatic garden. [2] The West Park eventually strayed from Olmstead’s visions and in exchange added eight donated deer, an eagle, and several bears; the park also included amenities for the public such as a six-hole golf course and tennis courts. In 1900 West Park became Washington Park “to reflect the importance of American history.” [3] By 1902 the zoo had expanded to 800 animals on 23 acres of land. In 1934 the zoo became a Milwaukee County Park Commission entity, which allowed the zoo to gain the resources that were needed to grow and prosper.[4] In 1953, although the zoo was still located within Washington Park, changed its name to the Milwaukee County Zoo. Five years later in 1958 the zoo moved to its current location on a 200 acre wooded parkland. Over the next 50 years later the zoo continues to expand their exhibits, wildlife, and buildings. In 2012, the zoo completed the first planning phase of a new 20-year zoo master plan that addressed improvements in animal exhibits, visitor attractions, service facilities and operations.


The Milwaukee County Zoo is involved in a number of different conservation and research programs to help protect a number of animal species. Some of these programs include Polar Bears International, Piping Plover, Whooping Crane Recovery Center, Grenada Frog, Great Ape Ultrasound Studies, as well as a handful more.[5] The zoo works along side other zoological societies in research and conservation programs at local, regional, national, and international levels.[6] It is important to work along side other credited zoos when performing conservation research so everyone can contribute their own strengths to the project, and all the zoos can take away the information learned in order to help protect future generations. All of the zoo's funding for their research and conservation efforts come from Zoo resources and trust funds, The Zoological Society of Milwaukee, public and private grants, as well as collaborating institution's resources.[7] The zoo also participates in SSP, or species survival plans. Under this plan the zoo works together with scientists and other experts to come up with breeding programs for the zoos endangered species.[8] The purpose of the SSP is to have the zoo find the right mating pair of a given species and give it the right environment to breed. The hope is that these programs will boost the numbers of a given species, and to protect the genetic variation of species.[9] This is a very particular process and often one that takes several attempts to achieve, if its even achieved at all. The right match between species must be chosen in order to keep genetic variation among the animal collection. This is way often times zoos share animals with other zoos, to extend the species genetics just like it would naturally occur in the wild.

Educational Opportunities

The mission of the Zoological Society of Milwaukee is to conserve wildlife and endangered species from not only Wisconsin and the United States, but from around the globe, to educate people about the importance of wildlife and the environment, and to support the efforts of the Milwaukee County Zoo.[10] The Milwaukee zoo has one of the largest zoo educational programs in the country, hosting nearly 300,000 guest a year.[11] The zoo offers many educational opportunities for the public to learn about the zoos mission of conservation. These opportunities include seasonal classes, summer camps, school programs, and educational programs at the zoo's Kohl's Wild Theater. [12] Summer camps are available to children from infant to 14 years old. These camps provide children a a hands on interactive experience with zoo animals and zoo life.[13] The Kohl's Wild Theater is located inside the Milwaukee Zoo grounds. The main purpose of the theater is to provide the public with hands on animal programs that are centered around a conservation theme expressed through drama, songs, and puppetry.[14] The theater does not strictly provide programs on site at the zoo, but also takes the show on the road to schools, festivals. and community events.[15] Located within the zoos borders is the Karen Peck Katz Conservation Educational Center. It is here where the public can take classes that are built around science-based environmental awareness curriculum.[16] The education building was built with environmental earth friendly guidelines in mind. The building was constructed following its incorporation of Wisconsin's Focus on Energy Plan. [17] On the roof you will find a variety of plant life. The purpose of this feature is to reduce storm-water runoff and reducing the odds of sewers getting clogged by acting as sponges and soaking up excess water.[18] Aside from the environmental benefits the building provides, it also acts as an educational model for its visitors and students on how to live a more environmental friendly life. Another educational opportunity that the Milwaukee Zoo provides is continuing education for teachers. The zoo offers workshops that include topics such as animal background information, station ideas, project samples, and zoo tours. All of these workshops are meant to educate teachers on wildlife so they can present lessons on animals and conservation in their own classrooms.[19] The zoo also provides individual educational opportunities throughout the zoo by places exhibit signs near all of their animal exhibits. These signs contain information about the animal such as where their natural habitat is, what they eat, and why they might be endangers or threatened in the wild. These signs help expose zoo guests to information on animals they might have never seen or heard of before. It might suggest ways in which they as individuals can help protect a certain species through conservation or even everyday lifestyle choices. These signs can also be a good way to educate the public on animals native to their state, and animals they may find in their own backyards. This is important because it helps the public recognize a number of animal species, and it might help them learn on to live along side of them and respecting them as wildlife. All of the zoos educational opportunities are meant to teach the public both young and old about various animal species, how they coexist with them, and how they can help protect animals from all over the world through conservation. It is important to teach these lessons young as it sets the stage for a more educated and productive future.

Archival Resources for Further Research

This is an ariel photograph of the Milwaukee County zoo grounds taken in 1964. Milwaukee Zoo Grounds. Photograph. Milwaukee. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 1964. Wisconsin Historical Society, Zoological Society of Milwaukee County (Wis.): Zoological Society of Milwaukee County records, 1910-2000. (December 4, 2018).

This is a photo of the Washington Park Zoo's Yak exhibit. Before becoming the Milwaukee County zoo, the zoo was formally known as the Washington Park Zoo. Yak. Photograph. Milwaukee. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Wisconsin Historical Society, Zoological Society of Milwaukee County (Wis.): Zoological Society of Milwaukee County records, 1910-2000. (December 4, 2018).


  1. "Milwaukee County Zoo", About Us, accessed November 30, 2018,
  2. Sara Biondich, "Spiritual Uplift at Washington Park",
  3. Sara Biondich, "Spiritual Uplift at Washington Park",
  4. "Milwaukee County Zoo", Zoo History Timeline, accessed November 30, 2018,
  5. "Research Programs", Milwaukee County Zoo.
  6. "Research Programs", Milwaukee County Zoo.
  7. "Research Programs", Milwaukee County Zoo.
  8. "Endangered Species Survival Plans", Milwaukee County Zoo.
  9. "Endangered Species Survival Plans", Milwaukee County Zoo.
  10. "Education Classes, Camps & Programs",Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  11. "Education Classes, Camps & Programs",Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  12. "Education Classes, Camps & Programs",Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  13. "Education Classes, Camps & Programs",Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  14. "Why So We Love Kohls's Wild Theater", Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  15. "Why So We Love Kohls's Wild Theater", Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  16. "Earth Friendly Education", Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  17. "Earth Friendly Education", Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  18. "Earth Friendly Education", Zoological Society of Milwaukee,
  19. "For Teachers: Courses At The Zoo", Zoological Society of Milwaukee,

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