As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Great Plains Zoo strives to fulfill four major objectives: Education, Conservation, Recreation, and Discovery.
The Zoo came from humble beginnings as a private collection in the 1880’s owned by Senator Richard F. Pettigrew, who housed a few specimens of animals for viewing in the local parks around Sioux Falls. In 1930, the Sioux Falls Parks systems assumed responsibility for zoo development and added additional specimens for permanent display in Sherman Park, just south of the zoo’s present location.
In 1957, the Zoological Society of Sioux Falls (ZSSF) was established as a non-profit corporation by a group of zoo supporters and organized by Howard Chernoff, associate publisher of the Sioux Falls newspaper The Argus Leader. Its goal was to develop and implement plans for a modern 32-acre zoo to be operated by the Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Department, with the ZSSF serving in an advisory and supportive capacity. The ZSSF, the Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Department, and several zoological consultants worked together for 3 years to design a new zoo and raise funds for construction. The Great Plains Zoo opened June 30, 1963 to provide education and recreation for the community.
The Great Plains Zoo continued growing and in 1984 the Delbridge Museum of Natural History opened. In 1985, the operation of the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History (GPZ) was assumed by the ZSSF and the City retaining ownership of the buildings and grounds. The change was based on the belief that private sector funding would increase if the City was not solely funding the zoo and museum, and the ZSSF would be better qualified to provide the necessary expertise to operate and manage a modern Zoological Park and Museum of Natural History.
In 1991 the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited the GPZ. Now, the Zoo's collection has grown to of hundreds of live animals from around the world exhibited in natural habitats emphasizing conservation and education. The Zoo has continued to renovate several of the older exhibits and created new larger habitats for the animals including: Asian Cats, Rare Rhinos of Africa, the award-winning Snow Monkey exhibit, and Fortress of the Bears. GPZ’s current capital campaign is to bring the roar of the Lions back to Sioux Falls with an expansion to the African exhibit.
The Zoo is also a regional education leader, reaching up to 40,000 adults and children each year with interactive ZooMobiles and hands-on programming at the Zoo for infants through early high schoolers, including STEM and nature-inspired classes.