Capitol Christmas Tree Celebrates Zoo’s 60th Anniversary

The Great Plains Zoo (GPZ) and Butterfly House & Aquarium (BHA) is thrilled to be invited to decorate the South Dakota Tree for Christmas at the Capitol 2023 in commemoration of GPZ’s 60th Anniversary.

Preparing the ornaments for the 27-foot Black Hills spruce has been a months-long process for GPZ/BHA. Team members from across the organization worked on components ranging from shaping the large wire circles used to hang the 150+ ornaments to meticulously painting portraits of real animals.

“It has been heartwarming to watch team members from both campuses come together to create a beautiful tree that represents this milestone anniversary, and where we’re heading from here,” said CEO Becky Dewitz. “Our team members are very talented, capable people who create enrichment, exhibits, and artwork in our facilities all the time. We’re grateful for this opportunity to showcase our team’s skills, as well as the species who call the zoo home.”

Christmas at the Capitol’s 2023 theme Winter Wonderland, and 60 years is the “diamond” anniversary, so the zoo team decided on a sparkly white and blue color scheme.

Decorations include:

  • An African lion topper, inspired by the lion exhibit the zoo will open in 2024.
  • 60 blue morpho butterflies, celebrating the merger between GPZ and BHA in the zoo’s 60th year.
  • Hand-painted animal ornaments cut from recycled coroplast signage, representing 40 species.
  • Animal footprint star ornaments, featuring species ranging from rats to rhinos.
  • Bubbles hand-painted with aquatic scenes, and others with glitter.
  • A handmade tree skirt with a central starburst inspired by sea anemones and the South Dakota state flag.

Some of the ornaments are memorials to beloved animals that have recently passed away, including Tama the Japanese macaque, Charles the black bear, and Jabba the stonefish. (Scroll below the images for a list of some of the species represented on the tree.)

The Grand Tree Lighting Ceremony is Tuesday, November 21 at 7 pm. Christmas at the Capitol is open November 22-December 26 from 8 am-10 pm.