Zoo Announces $25 Million Gift from T. Denny Sanford

The Great Plains Zoo and Butterfly House & Aquarium (GPZ/BHA) is thrilled to announce a game-changing $25 million gift from philanthropist and businessman T. Denny Sanford.

This transformative gift is given in support of the merger between GPZ and BHA, and the effort to unite all elements of land, sea, and sky in one location – including building a world-class aquarium and butterfly rainforest on the zoo campus.

The zoo’s new splash pad is the first major project funded by this latest donation, but it is far from Mr. Sanford’s first significant contribution to wildlife education and fun. As a longtime champion of the zoo, he donated the funds to open the Sanford Family Carrousel. He also contributed to the brown bear habitat expansion and provided $1.5 million to bring African lions back to Sioux Falls – a dream that is finally coming to fruition this summer.

“We are so grateful to Mr. Sanford for his generous philanthropic support for the transformational development of our beloved zoo,” said GPZ/BHA CEO Becky Dewitz. “This gift is a game changer and will allow us to create a regional destination where people can gain an intrinsic understanding and appreciation of the natural world, while also providing families with a quality experience that is memorable and meaningful. Sioux Falls is a vibrant community that is growing, and Mr. Sanford’s support will ensure our zoo and future aquarium mirrors this vibrancy – while also providing joy for our families and visitors.”

This $25 million gift depends on securing matching funds for the new aquarium, education center and butterfly rainforest. After achieving the $25 million match, Sioux Falls Zoo and Aquarium will receive an additional $10 million gift from Mr. Sanford to further enhance the campus. A capital campaign will launch in the coming months, encouraging philanthropic support from local organizations and individuals to bring this bold vision into reality for the betterment of our community and the animals in our care.  

The zoo is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm Thursday-Tuesday, with extended summer hours on Wednesdays until 7 pm. The Denny Sanford Family Splash Pad is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm (closing at 6:30 pm on Wednesdays). Great Plains Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.