Located in Apple Valley, Minnesota approximately 18 miles from Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Minnesota Zoo is an American Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo facility housing more than 5,300 animals within six unique themed exhibit zones. The vision for the Minnesota Zoo dates back to the 1960s, when local conservations embarked on a campaign to find a home for a comprehensive naturalistic zoo facility in the Twin Cities area.
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Initial studies were conducted about the feasibility of expanding Saint Paul’s Como Zoo, but the facility was found to be too small to host the type of natural habitat exhibits envisioned for the zoo project. In 1969, Minnesota’s legislature created the Minnesota Zoological Board for the purposes of developing a new zoo facility, and the following year, a 500-acre plot of land in nearby Apple Valley was donated for the construction of the new facility. After four years of construction, the Minnesota Zoo opened to the public on May 22, 1978 as the Minnesota Zoological Garden, featuring 1,200 animals across 238 species. The zoo was renowned at its opening for its unique exhibit design, housing animals grouped together by natural ecosystem habitats rather than isolated by species, a format that many zoos across America have followed since. Since its opening, the zoo has been the recipient of a number of awards from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, including the Bean Award, the International Conservation Award, and top exhibit, design, and marketing excellence awards.
Permanent Exhibits and Animals
Today, the Minnesota Zoo is operated as an agency of the state of Minnesota and financially supported by government funding and visitor admission and membership sales. As a partner organization of the International Species Information System and the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, it is recognized around the world as a leading zoological facility, known for its extensive education, conservation, and animal reintroduction programming. Since its opening, the zoo has hosted more than 36 million visitors, reaching a visitorship of more than 1.29 million annual guests by 2017.
The zoo’s 485-acre campus is divided into eight exhibit and trail areas and features the largest indoor interconnected zoo exhibit area in the United States. Native Minnesota animals are highlighted in the AZA-award-winning Medtronic Minnesota Trail, which was fully renovated and updated in 2007. A quarter-mile-long northwoods-style trail showcases 15 exhibit spaces for animals such as woodpeckers, pumas, Canadian lynx, coyotes, and gray wolves. A trailhead lodge at the entrance to the exhibit is also home to smaller native animals, including salamander, turtle, and frog species. Animals native to areas north of the 45th parallel are contained within the Northern Trail exhibit, including amur tigers, bison, gazelles, musk oxes, trumpeter swans, and Canadian geese. The Wells Fargo Family Farm exhibit, added to the zoo in 2000, also allows visitors to have up-close experiences with domestic American farm animals such as pigs, cows, sheep, chickens, and horses.
At the Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit, opened in 2008, visitors can observe animals native to Russia’s Pacific coastal areas in a 2.5-acre natural environment, including grizzly bears, sea otters, and wild boars. A Tropics Trail exhibit mimics the natural ecosystems of a number of biodiversity hotspots at risk of destruction, including the Amazon rainforest, and showcases animals such as the Komodo dragon, tree kangaroo, red river hog, red panda, and white-cheeked gibbon. A 1,100,000-gallon Discovery Bay offers touch tidepool opportunities with marine invertebrates such as stingrays, sharks, and sea stars in a natural estuary environment framed by a large mural entitled “Our Ocean Family.” Snow monkeys and penguins are also showcased at the zoo’s South Entry Trail.
In addition to wildlife exhibit areas, the Minnesota Zoo also offers film showings at the Great Clips IMAX Theatre, the largest IMAX screen in the state. The Weesner Family Amphitheater is also home to daily presentations of the Wings Financial World of Birds Show, which showcase the natural free-flight talents of bald eagles, snowy owls, and other international birds of prey.
Ongoing Programs and Education
As a leading wildlife conservation facility in the United States, the Minnesota Zoo is internationally known for its breeding and reintroduction programs for species such as southeastern Asian tigers, trumpeter swans, wild horses, and bluebirds. The zoo is a partner facility with Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon Kambas National Park through the Adopt-a-Park program, a partnership that has served as a model for similar adoption programs worldwide. Conservation efforts in partnership with the University of Minnesota have also conducted notable field research on moose and butterfly species.
A variety of educational programming is offered for children and adults, including curriculum-incorporated field trips, overnight experiences, and Zoomobile distance learning programs for elementary and secondary students. Summer and year-round camps are offered for children and adults, along with Wild Days of Play family nature events and ecological travel opportunities for high school and college students. Public special events held throughout the year include a World Speaker’s lecture series, an after-hours Music in the Zoo concert series, a Beastly Ball annual fundraiser, and a Walk the Wild Lights holiday event.
13000 Zoo Blvd, Apple Valley, MN 55124, Phone: 952-431-9200