Great Plains Zoo Receives National Honor for Snow Monkey Exhibit

Great Plains Zoo
Published: September 24, 2015, 2:24 PM

Great Plains Zoo Receives National Honor for Snow Monkey Exhibit

The Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History today announced it has received the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Top Honors Award for Exhibit Design (for the annual operating budgets under $5 million category) for its Snow Monkey (Japanese Macaque) exhibit. The honor was announced earlier this week at the AZA’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“This award is the highest honor for new exhibits and recognizes the Great Plains Zoo’s innovation and commitment in designing a dynamic, immersive habitat that provides the best in animal care and public education to help connect people with nature,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy.

With its annual Exhibit Award, AZA recognizes excellence by an AZA-accredited Institution (US or International) in the areas of exhibit design and providing visitors with the opportunity to engage in observing and learning about the animals.

“The Zoo often hears how much our guests love the Snow Monkey exhibit, and it’s even more exciting to receive this prestigious award from our peers at AZA,” said Elizabeth A. Whealy, President and CEO of the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History. “Two years after opening, our Snow Monkey exhibit continues to be an attendance driver and a conversation piece about the Zoo’s education and conservation efforts.”   

Completed in 2013, the Great Plains Zoo’s “Monkeys, Magic and More” project added eye-catching appeal to the entrance of the Zoo and replaced 50-year-old infrastructure that had outlived its usefulness. “The Snow Monkey exhibit not only added an engaging and dynamic experience that delights adults and children alike, it has completely transformed the entrance of the Zoo,” continued Elizabeth A. Whealy.

The project includes 180-degree views from covered shelters in the Snow Monkey exhibit, including one building that is heated for year-round use. The exhibit, located at the front of the Zoo, is active 361 days a year with a troop of 12 high-charisma Snow Monkeys. Currently, the Great Plains Zoo is one of only 13 U.S. zoos to care for Japanese Macaques. South Dakota’s cold winter climate is well-suited for a Macaque exhibit as Snow Monkeys are native to the snowy mountains of Japan. A holding building for the Macaques provides maximum flexibility for holding and shifting animals.

Two water features within the exhibit enhance both the habitat and guest experience and simulate the macaques’ habitat in the wild.  Zoo staff created a suite of colorful, engaging signs focusing on the natural history and behaviors of the animals, including information about social nuances, hierarchy and communication. Patterns from kimonos and other Japanese textiles adorn the signs and exhibit soffits, and created a visually-appealing palette of colors used through the view shelters.  

The $4.7 million “Monkeys, Magic and More” initiative also added “curb appeal” by reshaping the entrance to the Zoo with a new, engaging gateway. Since opening the exhibit, the Zoo has seen an eight percent increase in attendance. Renovations also helped the Zoo better manage an increased attendance of nearly 273,000 annual visitors – double the attendance of just nine years ago. It enhanced the Delbridge Museum of Natural History building with improved member and guest processing, better gift shop access, and addition of a new state-of-the-art classroom, and a play-and-learn area for children called the Kids’ Clinic.

About the Great Plains Zoo
The Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering a greater understanding of our natural world through education, conservation, recreation and discovery. The Great Plains Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – a leader in wildlife conservation. Less than 10% of animal institutions in the United States have met the high standards for AZA accreditation.

About AZA
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and seven other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit