About Us

Always Something New

Every year in the last two decades there has been something new at the Zoo. Since the Milwaukee County Zoo officially opened in 1961 at 10001 W. Blue Mound Rd. in Milwaukee (Wis.), there have been numerous additions. The original buildings started in 1959 when the first animal house, the Primate Building, was opened. Then came Monkey Island, Lake Evinrude and the Alaskan bear exhibit. They were followed by the Feline House, Winter Quarters and Pachyderm Mall (buildings housing elephants, rhinos, etc.). As the 1960s progressed, other areas opened: more bear exhibits, the giraffes exhibit, the antelope-deer barn, the Australia Building, the free-flight aviary, the Aquatic & Reptile Center, the Small Mammals Building and Sheep Mountain. In June 1971, a Children’s Zoo opened to the public.

Giraffe Feeding

Austin and Angela Cyrs of Oconomowoc watched as Bahatika the giraffe stretched his gray tongue to reach the maple branch in their hands. The children and their parents, Ted and Tammi Cyrs, were among 400 guests at the Milwaukee County Zoo for the premiere of the MillerCoors Giraffe Experience on July 10, 2006.

For more photos, click here.

About 14 years went by, with Zoo buildings doing well and impressing visitors. By the mid-1980s, however, it was time for some remodeling and expansion. In 1985, both the Feline House and Small Mammals Building were renovated with natural rockwork, pools and plantings. That same year a capital campaign was launched by the Zoological Society and the Zoo to add new buildings and expand existing ones. From then on, it has been an amazing expansion. Through two capital campaigns--the 1987-1998 $26 million campaign and the 2001-2008 $30.5 million campaign--the Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) partnered with Milwaukee County to complete 15 projects.

In addition, there were projects not part of those campaigns. For example, in 1997 the Zoological Society put up a building that was paid for entirely by the ZSM, thanks to a donation from the family foundation of the late Bill Borchert Larson, one of the ZSM’s biggest donors. Called the Otto Borchert Family Special Exhibits Building, the facility allows the Zoo to bring in museum-quality exhibits. Larson’s foundation also paid for the Idabel Wilmot Borchert Flamingo Exhibit in 2008 and was the major contributor to the Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country in 2005 (part of the 2001-2008 capital campaign). You can find statues of Florence Mila Borchert and her son, Bill Borchert Larson, at the south end of the feline facility; a statue of Otto Borchert (Bill Larson’s grandfather) sits outside the exhibits building with a young Florence.

Zoo Director Chuck Wikenhauser praises the ZSM for its century of Zoo support: “Without the financial and program assistance of the Zoological Society, the Milwaukee County Zoo would not be the world-class facility that it is today. Working cooperatively, the two organizations continue to provide the resources needed to make the Zoo a leader in animal care, conservation, education, and family recreation.”

The following Zoo improvements and additions from 1988 through 2009 were accomplished through two capital campaigns as well as special projects. The first, $26 million campaign included:

  • the Peck Welcome Center (including a theater), 1988
  • the new Herb & Nada Mahler Family Aviary, 1991
  • Apes of Africa (new bonobo and gorilla exhibits), 1992
  • a remodeled Primates of the World building, 1993
  • the new Aquatic & Reptile Center, 1995
  • the Wong Family Pheasantry, 1998

The second capital campaign, completed in 2008 and costing $30.5 million, dramatically changed more than 25% of the Zoo through these nine projects:

  • Holz Family Impala Country 2001
  • Remodeled Macaque Island, 2002
  • New Lakeview Place Restaurant, 2002
  • Animal Health Center, 2003
  • Karen Peck Katz Conservation Education Center, 2004
  • Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country, 2005
  • Northwestern Mutual Family Farm (originally the Children’s Zoo and then Stackner Heritage Farm), 2005
  • MillerCoors Giraffe Experience, 2006
  • U.S. Bank Gathering Place (a new atrium entrance to the Zoo), 2008

Special projects included:

  • Otto Borchert Family Special Exhibits Building
  • Temple Monkeys of Tikal spider monkey exhibit indoors and out
  • Idabel Wilmot Borchert Flamingo Exhibit and Overlook
  • Several new decks, including the Derse Foundation migratory bird deck, warthog deck, and Koala Walkabout deck
  • Renovation of every restroom plus new restrooms
  • A remodeled Dall sheep exhibit
  • a sky glider ride
  • a train station and a covered carousel
  • Renovation of the Taylor Family Foundation Humboldt Penguin Exhibit (2009)
  • Dohmen Family Foundation Hippo Home (2009)
Get more information on Zoo history.

View more photos of these building projects.

Text by Paula Brookmire. Contributors include Elizabeth Frank, Mary Kazmierczak and Sam LaMalfa. Photos by Richard Brodzeller unless otherwise noted.

Celebrating 100 years of support

Join the Zoological Society’s Centennial Celebration in 2010.

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