About Us

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee

Mission Statement

The mission of the Zoological Society of Milwaukee is to take part in conserving wildlife and endangered species, to educate people about the importance of wildlife and the environment, and to support the Milwaukee County Zoo.

What is the Zoological Society of Milwaukee?

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) was established in 1910 as an informal group of community leaders who bought animals and raised funds for the Zoo. Today it is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with the mission to conserve, educate and support the Milwaukee County Zoo. The ZSM has 44 full-time and 10 part-time employees who manage daily operations and programs. In the 2010-11 fiscal year, the ZSM raised more than $6.4 million to support the Milwaukee County Zoo.

A Rich History

Happy Birthday to us! In 2010, the Zoological Society celebrated its centennial anniversary. Since 1910 the Zoological Society has been a driving force behind Milwaukee’s Zoo, from the time it was the 38-acre Washington Park Zoo on Vliet Street in Milwaukee, Wis., through the move to its 209-acre location on Blue Mound Road in the 1950s. Please click here for vintage photos, stories and historical resources.

In 1953 officers of the Washington Park Zoological Society were introduced to a new leopard cub.

Photo from Milwaukee Zoo News.

Supporting the Zoo

Helping the Milwaukee County Zoo maintain its reputation as Wisconsin's premier educational and cultural treasure is a big part of the Zoological Society's mission. Together, the Zoo and ZSM serve about 1.3 million Zoo visitors a year. The ZSM and Zoo work together to attract both a strong family base as well as a diverse, non-traditional audience through free days, targeted school programs, evening concerts, special events and other efforts. Thanks to the vision of community leaders and the generosity of many friends, the ZSM has invested millions in capital improvements to the Zoo. Through two capital campaigns, ZSM support, combined with matching dollars from Milwaukee County, has helped build animal homes that resemble natural habitats. These habitats include the Stearns Family Apes of Africa Pavilion, Primates of the World, the Herb & Nada Mahler Family Aviary, the Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country and the MillerCoors Giraffe Experience.

"Zoo support" also means raising funds to cover the cost of maintaining and creating educational and innovative exhibits, designing signs and graphics at the Zoo, creating brochures and other promotional materials, and funding several of the Zoo's wildlife research and conservation projects.

Zoo Pride Volunteers

The ZSM is fortunate to have a dedicated group of volunteers who are essential to our success in fulfilling the mission. Zoo Pride volunteers lead tours, assist with education programs, staff our information booths at the Zoo, help with special events, and provide clerical and staff support.

In 2010-11, Zoo Pride volunteers donated 43,950 hours to the Society and the Zoo. Zoo Pride celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2010. Meet some of our volunteers here.

Zoo Pride volunteer Jim Redding (right) shows a snow leopard artifact to guests at a Zoological Society fund-raising event called Zootastic.

Zoological Society Education Programs

Throughout the year, the Zoological Society brings exceptional animal, environmental and science-based educational opportunities to children, adults and families. These programs are held in the Karen Peck Katz Conservation Education Center, the ZSM’s eight-classroom building on Zoo grounds. The programs help people develop an understanding of wildlife and some of the environmental challenges the Earth faces.

Art Club

A Zoological Society educator helps a student create an animal mobile at the popular Art Club class.

The ZSM's highly trained staff is in charge of all the education programs at the Zoo as well as many programs off site. James Mills, director of conservation education, has a master’s of arts and teaching degree in museum education from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and an undergraduate degree in anthropology and psychology from Marquette University. The rest of the full-time educators all have college degrees in fields ranging from biology and zoology to geography and education.

For school classes, the ZSM's Conservation Education Department provides a) special programs in the Conservation Education building; b) Zoo to You classes brought by ZSM educators directly to schools, often with live animals; and c) self-guided Zoo tour materials that enhance teacher curriculum. Along with sharpening students' sensory and observation skills, animal programs and related materials help fulfill science standards set by the state of Wisconsin. Year-round classes and summer camps available to individual children and families offer hands-on learning activities focusing on the wonderful world of animals. Overall, these programs reached 225,931 individuals in our 2010-11 fiscal year. The ZSM reached thousands more people with educational messages about animals and conservation through the ZSM Web site (which averages about 37,800 visits per month) and e-mail news to members, ZSM publications, ZSM-designed signage at the Zoo, Zoological Society programs in Africa, stories in the media about ZSM projects, and social media such as YouTube and Twitter.

Conservation Programs

In the last quarter-century, the ZSM has made far-reaching contributions to conservation -- around the world and at the Zoo. Many of the animals that are in immediate danger of extinction -- apes, rhinos, tigers — have a better chance for survival thanks to the ZSM. Please go here for an archive of stories on the ZSM’s conservation projects.

Dr. Gay E. Reinartz and Zoological Society staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo explore bonobo habitat.

Dr. Gay E. Reinartz and Zoological Society staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo explore bonobo habitat.

As part of its efforts to save the bonobo (a rare ape), the ZSM has established a research station in the Democratic Republic of Congo and headquarters in Kinshasa, the capital. Dr. Gay Reinartz, the ZSM's conservation coordinator, heads the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative, a diverse range of programs that help bonobos and the people who share their habitat in the Congo. Please go here for details on this program. Dr. Reinartz also heads the Species Survival Plan for these great apes living at zoos, including the group of 15 bonobos at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Birds Without Borders-Aves Sin Fronteras® (BWB-ASF), the ZSM's international conservation-research-education project, wrapped up its major missions in spring 2009. This program ran for nearly 12 years, studying the declining numbers of songbirds on both their breeding grounds in Wisconsin and their wintering homes in Belize, Central America. Staff published reports that give practical tips to landowners on how to manage their land to benefit birds. The reports are available online here. BWB-ASF Belize staff also explored more than half of the 6,125-acre Runaway Creek Nature Preserve owned by the Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, Inc. (FWC), the ZSM's partner. In the future, BWB-ASF will continue under the FWC.

The ZSM has forged relationships with other conservation groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Congo Basin Forest Partnership in Africa, the Lewa Conservancy (a Kenya reserve for endangered black rhinos and elephants), the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and numerous bird groups. The ZSM has also collaborated with regional conservation groups, the state of Wisconsin, and the Zoo to help reintroduce to Wisconsin such species as the trumpeter swan and the ornate box turtle. We support Zoo conservation programs, including the long-term ecological study of the Humboldt penguin, both at the Zoo and in Chile. Our conservation efforts in other countries include hiring and training local people, contributions to local economies, and grass-roots education campaigns to sensitize people to the importance of preserving native wildlife.

Funding the Mission

Zoological Society Membership

In our 2010-11 fiscal year, the ZSM brought in more than $4.8 million in Zoo Pass memberships. Members of the ZSM receive many benefits, including free admission to the Milwaukee County Zoo and more than 130 other zoos and aquariums nationwide. Members also receive a subscription to Alive, the ZSM's exclusive member magazine; Wild Things, the ZSM's event newsletter; discounts on education workshops and Zoo gift-shop purchases; and invitations to special members-only events and programs. We are fortunate to have a loyal group of members.

Serengeti Circle

The Serengeti Circle, a ZSM sponsor- and grantor-recognition program established in 1994, is a valued group of corporations and foundations that supports the Zoo and Zoological Society through grants and sponsorship of special events, traveling exhibits, attractions and education/conservation programs at the $2,500 level and above. Sponsors and grantors are recognized at the Zoo and in a Contributors list mailed to ZSM members and are invited to attend new Zoo exhibit premieres and a spring recognition luncheon.

Platypus Circle

The major donors of the Zoological Society are recognized through membership in the Platypus Circle. Members include about 375 area foundations, businesses and individuals contributing more than $716,000 annually with in-kind services and support. Platypus Circle members receive exclusive benefits, including VIP admission cards to the Zoo, invitations to previews of new exhibits, behind-the-scenes tours, an annual summer picnic, an autumn awards dinner, and a newsletter.

Animal Sponsorship Program

From $20 to $2,500, the animal sponsorship money helps maintain and enhance animal exhibits at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Children can sponsor animals through our Kids Conservation Club, through school classes, or as individuals. Adults who love animals sponsor their favorites. All our sponsors are invited to a behind-the-scenes event at the Zoo in August, and receive information about their sponsored animal. In the 2010-11 fiscal year, the Zoological Society’s Sponsor an Animal program had 3,247 animal sponsorships, raising $157,000 to support all the animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo.


The Zoological Society established its grants program in 1989, with a budget of $42,000. Last fiscal year, we raised $593,333 in grants, which support education programs at the Zoo or off site, as well as numerous conservation programs.

Fundraising events

Each year the ZSM hosts events that raise money, entertain guests, and build community support—all at the same time. Zoo Ball is the Society's biggest fund-raising event. Held annually since 1984, the event raises funds to help support Zoo building projects, conservation projects and education programs. The Birdies and Eagles Golf Tournament, Zootastic! and Ride on the Wild Side family biking event also have become popular ZSM fundraisers. Funds raised from these events go directly to Zoo exhibit renovations, education programs and conservation projects. In 2010-11, the ZSM’s special events raised more than $560,069.

Zoo Ball Chairs

Chairs of Zoo Ball 2012, "Animal House" John & Tricia Shinners (left) and Rob & Brookellen Teuber


The Zoological Society draws upon the special generosity of its members, donors and special-event-goers for important unrestricted annual operating support. Besides supporting the Zoological Society through annual dues, members also have a chance to contribute to the ZSM's Annual Appeal. Proceeds from the appeal typically go toward a specific project. In 2011, we raised money to help improve the Dairy Barn Theater and Belle the Dairy Cow. We also look with increasing urgency to other areas of supplemental income: private and corporate foundation grants, endowments, and promotional partnerships with area businesses, memorial and honoree gifts, corporate sponsorships and in-kind donations. Combined, these vital sources of support will help the ZSM face the future challenges of strengthening our education outreach, conservation and Zoo-support programs.

Polar Bear

Capital Campaign for the 21st Century

In 2008, the Zoological Society and Milwaukee County completed a joint $30.5 million New Zoo II Capital Campaign to improve the Zoo. The ZSM raised a total of $15,513,958 since the campaign started in 2001. Milwaukee County provided the remaining funds as part of this public-private partnership. The Capital Campaign projects and their dates of completion are:

  • 2001: Holz Family Impala Country, with a deck overlooking remodeled yards that bring the African antelope closer to Zoo visitors.
  • 2002: a second Zoo restaurant, called Lakeview Place, next to Lake Evinrude.
  • 2002: a completely rebuilt Macaque Island and a new indoor home for the Japanese macaque monkeys.
  • 2003: a new Animal Health Center that included the Holz Family Foundation Learning Zone, which teaches visitors about how veterinarians and other specialists care for the animals.
  • 2004: an eight-classroom Zoological Society school called the Karen Peck Katz Conservation Education Center.
  • 2005: the Northwestern Mutual Family Farm.
  • 2005: the Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country.
  • 2006: The Miller Brewing Company Giraffe Experience, now called the MillerCoors Giraffe Experience.
  • 2008: U.S. Bank Gathering Place, a new indoor entrance into the Zoo that replaced an outdoor mall.
U.S. Bank Gathering Place

The U.S. Bank Gathering Place entrance to the Zoo was completed in May 2008.

The Future

Look for stories in Alive magazine and Wild Things newsletter, as well as on our Web site, about our accomplishments and our vision for the future.