Your Detroit Zoo

Your Detroit Zoo


The mission of the Detroit Zoological Society is to:

  • Demonstrate leadership in wildlife conservation and animal welfare.
  • Provide a broad audience with outstanding and unique educational opportunities that lead to the appreciation and stewardship of nature.
  • Inspire our community with engaging, meaningful and memorable experiences.
  • Provide innovative zoological facilities that contribute to the region’s economic vitality.
  • Demonstrate organizational excellence consistent with a commitment to outstanding service, progressive resource management and environmental leadership.

The Detroit Zoo has 125 acres of naturalistic habitats for more than 2,000 animals from anteaters to zebras and features award-winning attractions such as the National Amphibian Conservation Center, Great Apes of Harambee and Arctic Ring of Life. The Zoo’s newest attraction is the spectacular Polk Penguin Conservation Center, the largest facility for penguins in the world.

  • Zoo Board and Staff

    Ron L. Kagan, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer
    Scott Carter, Chief Life Sciences Officer
    Gerry VanAcker, Chief Operating Officer
    Jeffrey Evans, Chief Financial Officer
    Diane Miller, Chief Program Officer
    Jane Alessandrini, Chief Development Officer


    Executive Committee
    Lloyd A. Semple, Chair
    Gail L. Warden, Chair Emeritus
    Stephen R. Polk, Vice Chair
    John G. Sznewajs, Treasurer
    Larry Alexander
    William Conway
    Cynthia Ford
    Alan Kalter
    Thomas J. Lewand
    Denise J. Lewis
    Lisa Lis
    Shawn Patterson
    Richard B. Platt
    Robert G. Riney
    Sean Werdlow

    Matthew S. Ahearn
    N. Charles Anderson
    Alisha R. Bell
    Thomas C. Buhl
    Beth Chappell
    Shery L. Cotton
    Mary Kay Crain
    Matthew P. Cullen
    Marvin C. Daitch
    Dr. Beth Daly
    Karen Dumas
    David E. Duprey
    Matthew B. Elliott
    Charles Ellis (Bishop)
    John Erb
    Burton D. Farbman
    Jennifer Fischer
    Marjorie M. Furman
    Linda Gillum

    Directors cont.
    Allan Gilmour
    Dr. Terry S. Harvill
    Jeff Hauswirth
    Doreen Hermelin
    Marina A. Houghton
    Paul Huxley
    Kelle Ilitch
    Hassan Jaber
    Hiram Jackson
    George G. Johnson
    Alan J. Kaufman
    Bonnie Larson
    Dawn Lee-Cotton
    Daniel Little
    Victor Martin
    Isaiah McKinnon
    Virinder K. Moudgil
    Hon. Julie A. Nicholson
    Stuart Robbins
    Marion Roberge
    James Rosenthal
    Melissa Roy
    Rick Ruffner
    Anmar K. Sarafa
    Lawrence M. Scott
    Grace Shore
    Andre Spivey
    Shirley R. Stancato
    James Tate
    Joel D. Tauber
    Jeffrey K. Willemain
    William Wolfson

    Advisory Council
    Gail Warden, Chair
    Lynn Ford Alandt
    Madeleine Berman
    Nasser Beydoun
    Kay Cowger
    Anthony F. Earley, Jr.
    Ruth R. Glancy
    Michael W. Jamieson
    Carolyn Ewald Kratzet
    Robert P. Roselle
    Lydia G. Smith
    Gerald E. Warren
    Marilyn J. Way


  • Zoo Facts

    Detroit Zoo

    • Situated on 125 acres with many naturalistic habitats
    • Major exhibits include the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, Arctic Ring of Life, Australian Outback Adventure, Great Apes of Harambee, National Amphibian Conservation Center, Holden Reptile Conservation Center and Butterfly Garden
    • Click here for current operating hours
    • Click here for admission prices
    • Largest paid family attraction in Michigan with more than 1.6 million visitors annually
    • 62,000 member households
    • Home to more than 2,000 animals of 240 species
    • 245 employees including full- and part-time
    • More than 1,100 volunteers, docents and gardeners who donate more than 100,000 hours of service each year
    • Mission of Celebrating and Saving Wildlife
    • Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums

    Belle Isle Nature Center

    • Situated on approximately 6 acres of Michigan’s forested wetland
    • Click here for current operating hours
    • Focuses on Michigan wildlife, flora and fauna
    • Offers family nature programs and education programs for schools and community groups
    • Admission to the Nature Center is free; however, a State of Michigan Recreation Passport is required for all vehicles to enter Belle Isle.
  • Zoo History

    Part 1 – The Zoo’s Early Years

    Part 2 – From the Rosevelt Administration Era (1932) to Now

  • Zoo Timeline

    Timeline of the Detroit Zoo

    • 1928 – Detroit Zoo opens to the public on August 1.  Habitats include bear dens, lion dens, bird house, elk yard, raccoon and wolverine habitats, African veldt and completely stocked lakes.
    • 1928 – Zoo closes on December 3 for the winter, having entertained 1.5 million visitors in its first four months.
    • 1930-32 – New animals and habitats are added, including elephants, rhinos, giraffes, bison, Baboon Rock, Prairie Dog Village, a farmyard and the first reptile habitat.
    • 1931 – Miniature railroad opens, donated by The Detroit News.
    • 1932 – First chimpanzee show debuts, starring the famous Jo Mendi.
    • 1933 – Zoo begins truck gardens to help alleviate Depression food shortages.
    • 1933-34 – Civil Works Administration and Federal Emergency Relief Administration provide funds and manpower to build hippopotamus house, beaver habitat and other animal habitats.
    • 1935-37 – The federal Work Projects Administration (WPA) builds animal hospital and administration building and provides major landscaping.
    • 1939 – Horace Rackham Memorial Fountain is dedicated.
    • 1940 – Paulina the elephant retires after 500,000 riders.
    • 1955 – Holden Amphitheater and Great Ape House open.
    • 1960 – Holden Museum of Living Reptiles opens.
    • 1962 – Regular TV broadcasts of “Sonny Eliot at the Zoo” begin.
    • 1968 – Penguinarium opens, the first zoo building in the world designed entirely for penguins; includes underwater viewing and continuous swim loop for the penguins.
    • 1969 – Detroit Zoo opens to the public year-round.
    • 1977 – Bird House free-flight wing built with funding from Matilda R. Wilson.  Docent (volunteer teacher) program begins.
    • 1982 – Chimpanzee shows end as Zoo’s philosophy about animal management changes.
    • 1989 – Chimps of Harambee habitat opens.
    • 1993 – Dinosauria! exhibit debuts at Detroit Zoo.
    • 1994 – Mandrill habitat opens. Renovated giraffe house opens to the public after 32 years.
    • 1995 – Wildlife Interpretive Gallery opens, a renovation of the original bird house.
    • 1997 – Edward Mardigian, Sr. River Otter habitat and Gerry Rissman PlayVenture open.
    • 2000 – Amphibiville, home of the National Amphibian Conservation Center, opens in June.
    • 2001 – Wild Adventure Ride, the nation’s first zoo simulator, opens in May. Arctic Ring of Life, North America’s largest polar bear habitat, opens in October.
    • 2001 – Berman Academy for Humane Education is established.
    • 2002 – Detroit Zoo receives the 2002 AZA National Exhibit Award for Amphibiville.
    • 2004 – Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex is completed.
    • 2005 – Ford Education Center opens.
    • 2005Elephants Winky and Wanda are moved to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in California.
    • 2006 – Detroit Zoological Society assumes daily operations and financial management of Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center.
    • 2006 – Australian Outback Adventure opens.
    • 2008 – Detroit Zoo celebrates 80th anniversary.
    • 2008 – Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county voters approve property tax millage to help support Detroit Zoo operations.
    • 2012 – Cotton Family Wetlands and Boardwalk opens.
    • 2012 – Jane and Frank Warchol Beaver Habitat opens.
    • 2015 – Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness opens.
    • 2016  – Polk Penguin Conservation Center opens.
    • 2016 – Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county voters renew property tax millage for 10 years.