Partners for Eighty-Six Years

Partners For Eighty-Six Years

In March 1887 when the James Miller family sold forty-three acres of land to the City of Bloomington for $17,000 the property was intended to be used as a park. The city paid $12,000 of the purchase price while those living on the city’s southwest side were called upon by subscription to donate the other $5,000. This property consisted of a partially wooded area with a slightly rolling topography. There was no zoo.

When the zoo opened in 1891, expenses for care and feeding of animals were paid by the city and donations from citizens.

In 1937, the Miller Park Zoological Society was formed to provide support for the zoo through fundraising and community outreach. And so began an 86-year partnership between the Society and the City. Without this partnership the zoo would not exist. Zoo staff are employees of the city, and the facility and property are owned by the city. The city provides office space for Society employees.

Expenses for exhibits, equipment, and special programming come from private donors through the Miller Park Zoological Society.

The Zoological Society was incorporated in 1959 and granted 501(c)(3) status in 1976.

In 1978 the Zoo was accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Fewer than 10% of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture are AZA accredited. To be accredited a zoo must maintain the highest standard of animal welfare, provide education programming that help cultivate conservation-minded adults and children, and have funding that is adequate for the Zoo to keep up with the standards of a modern zoo. 

All individual and families with a zoo membership are automatically members of the Zoological

Society. Currently the Society has over two thousand members and is working to continue the steady growth experienced during recent years.

Annually the Society provides financial support for zoo operations, hosts fundraising events such as Zoo Do and Brews at the Zoo, and raises funds for new exhibits and other special projects.

An example of the power of this partnership is the current South American exhibit which is under construction. Funding for this 1.2-million-dollar project is coming from a $750,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, a $100,000 gift from the Ewing Zoo Foundation, a $250,000 commitment from the Society, and the balance from the City.

The South America project will include the construction of three new habitats for two animal species never before seen at Miller Park Zoo. Giant Anteaters and Chilean Pudu will join the Zoo’s impressive collection. The Galapagos Tortoises currently living in the tortoise yard will also move into a new home.

Like so many other things guests enjoy at the zoo, this exhibit is an example of the power of a strong partnership, one that has lasted for 86 years.