Austin Zoo started out as a goat ranch. In 1990, it became the Good Day Ranch, housing animals in need. At that time, the animals were mostly domesticated and local animals including goats, pigs, fallow deer, donkeys, and ponies, with just a few exotic animals. Gradually the number of exotic animals increased, and in 1994 the name was changed to Austin Zoo. In 2000, the zoo became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Today, the zoo and sanctuary is home to mostly exotic animals that were rescued from or unwanted by their owners, animals from other zoos and sanctuaries, and animals who were awarded protection through the judicial system. All of these animals have a forever home with Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary.
In 2010 the zoo received a pair of lions which were believed to be Barbary lions from a private owner. Because these lions are believed extinct in the wild, the zoo agreed to breed them and to provide DNA samples to the Barbary Lion Project. The family of lions now includes two cubs.