Located in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo is an interactive wildlife habitat designed specifically for young visitors, offering safe up-close encounters with more than 400 animals, including endangered species such as the Matschie’s tree kangaroo and the Amur leopard. The Lincoln Children’s Zoo was the vision of Arnott Folsom, who proposed the idea for an interactive children’s zoo funded by personal contributions in 1959.
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Construction began on the zoo in 1983, with operations of a miniature railroad on the property, named the “Iron Horse,” beginning the following year to supplement funding from ride fees. More than 150,000 ride tickets were sold in 1964, enough to permit the zoo’s public opening in 1965. At its opening, the zoo encompasses three acres of land owned by the city of Lincoln and featured more than 120 animals. The zoo’s animals were seasonal until 1973, when permanent zoo staff was hired to allow for year-round operations. Expansions of the zoo followed throughout the following decades included an all-weather Animal Kingdom habitat, a Butterfly Pavilion, and habitat areas for river otters, Humboldt penguins, gelada baboons, and Bactrian camels.
Today, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo is home to more than 400 animals and is a privately-funded zoo, located on a 10-acre campus. As the third-most attended cultural attraction in the state of Nebraska, the zoo is host to more than 200,000 annual visitors and is open to the public between April and October, although research and conservation efforts continue year-round. As an accredited Association of Zoos and Aquariums facility, the zoo is the largest attended zoo per acre in the United States and has been ranked by Parent Magazine as one of the country’s best family zoo facilities.
Among the zoo’s animals are more than 40 endangered animals, including Amur leopards, Matschie’s tree kangaroos, and Humboldt penguins. Notable mammal holdings include dromedary camels, llamas, Nubian and pygmy goats, and pygmy marmosets, the smallest monkey species in the world. Bird species showcased include the bald eagle, macaw, Indian blue peafowl, Caribbean flamingo, and East African crowned crane, while reptile and aquatic animals include the North American river otter, the Galapagos tortoise, and the West African dwarf crocodile.
Exhibit areas include the all-weather Animal Kingdom habitat, the Critter Outpost, which offers interactive experiences with small animals such as guinea pigs and doves, and the Hive, which showcases amphibians and arthropods such as Madagascar hissing cockroaches, scorpions, and tarantulas.Laura’s Butterfly Pavilion, open at its permanent location since 2008, offers visitors a chance to observe butterflies in flight in a natural recreated habitat. Other exhibits include a Tortoise Trek area and a Wrangler Roundup, offering horse rides for an additional fee.
The zoo’s Iron Horse Train departs throughout the day from a train depot within the main admission building, offering rides around the zoo’s property for an additional fee. At the Animal Encounter Stage, opened in 2014, daily demonstrations offer children opportunities to interact with animals such as bobcats, fennic foxes, and baby alligators. Several children’s play areas are located throughout the park, including a Natural Play Area. A Safari Cafe restaurant offers light American fare such as pizza, and picnic areas are located throughout the zoo for use by families and tour groups. Animal-themed toys, gifts, and souvenirs are sold at the zoo’s Treetop Toys gift shop, located within the main admission building.
Ongoing Programming and Education
Field trip opportunities are offered for children’s groups and organizations, including curriculum-incorporated tours for elementary school groups. Advance reservations of at least five business days ahead of tour date for field trips are required, with special rates for groups of 30 or more visitors. Bus parking is offered at a designated bus lane outside the facility, and use of picnic areas within the facility is encouraged, though no outside catering may be brought into the zoo.
Birthday party packages are available for rental for up to 14 guests, including zoo admission, one hour for party time within a temperature-controlled facility, and a choice of animal visit. Summer camp programs are held weekly during the summer months for participants aged 3-12, and educational travel opportunities are offered periodically for high school students. Breakfast with the Penguins events allow children to feed the zoo’s penguins and meet-and-greet with mascot penguin Topper, and Wild Wednesday events throughout the summer months offer evening programming, including animal demonstrations and family-friendly activities. Other public special events include the Boo at the Zoo trick-or-treat event, the Brews at the Zoo beer tasting event, offering live music in an adults-only environment. Throughout the winter holiday season, the zoo’s train operates as the North Pole Express, offering winter-themed train rides “en route” to the North Pole.
1222 S 27th St, Lincoln, NE 68502, Phone: 402-475-6741