Blank Park Zoo

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Blank Park Zoo
"Iowa's Wildest Adventure"
Date opened May 8, 1966
Location Des Moines, Iowa, United States
Coordinates 41.5193° N, 93.6242° W
Land area 25 Acres
Memberships (AZA)

Blank Park Zoo is a 25-acre zoological park on the south side of Des Moines, Iowa near historic Fort Des Moines. The zoo is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is the only accredited zoo in Iowa. The mission of the Blank Park Zoo is to inspire an appreciation of the natural world through conservation, education and recreation.[citation needed]


In 1963, Mr. A.H. Blank donated $150,000 for the construction of a children's zoo on decommissioned Fort Des Moines property. The Des Moines Children’s Zoo was officially opened on May 8, 1966. It was originally designed around nursery rhymes and included a castle with moat, a replica of Noah's Ark, petting zoo and miniature railroad.

Over the next 16 years the city failed to make improvements to the zoo and was on the verge of closing until in 1981 a group of civic minded business leaders formed the Blank Park Zoo Foundation to help save the zoo. The foundation's number one goal was to provide financial support for capital improvements, animal acquisitions and promotional and marketing activities.

The foundation succeeded by forming a partnership with the City of Des Moines that resulted in a $1.8 million bond referendum, as well as an additional $1.4 million from the community. Finally at the end of 1982 the zoo closed for some much needed renovations.[1]

On May 17, 1986 the zoo reopened, featuring geographic themed exhibits with spacious, naturally landscaped environments. In 1987 the zoo was accredited by the AZA.[1]

In 1995 the Blank Park Zoo Foundation purchased 25.3 acres (10.2 ha) of additional historic Fort Des Moines property and 9 historic buildings for future growth and expansion of the zoo. It also began a capital campaign to build a new great cats exhibit and a 30,000-square-foot (2,800 m2) indoor Discovery Center exhibit.

On May 1, 1999 the Tom and Jo Ghrist Great Cats exhibit opened and on September 1, 2001, the Blank Park Zoo opened the Myron & Jackie Blank Discovery Center. On July 1, 2003 the Blank Park Zoo Foundation and City of Des Moines complete a new 28E agreement to transfer the operations and management of the zoo to the foundation. Terry Rich is hired as the zoo’s first-ever chief executive officer, marking a new era in zoo history. Initial Spring Break and Holiday Safaris are introduced with much success.

In 2011, new signage and interactives are installed in the Great Cats kiosks, David Kruidenier Australia Adventure opens featuring the endangered cassowary, sea lion pool is rebuilt and a special dinosaur exhibit was open all summer in the Zoo Plex.

"Big Dig" event held at Blank Park Zoo to generate excitement about expansion held at the zoo with 8,000 in attendance.

Behind the scenes a new quarantine facility is constructed to help animal management and a new veterinarian agreement with Iowa State University is signed.

Major exhibits[edit]

The Blank Park Zoo contains a variety of wildlife in several various exhibits:

Discovery Center[edit]

The Discovery Center is an entirely enclosed area you encounter first when you enter the zoo and contains many different types of animal and plant life. The Discovery Center itself is broken down into separate sections to create a unique viewing experience:

Meredith Alpine Exhibit

The Meredith Alpine Exhibit is the entrance exhibit to the Discovery Center. This exhibit takes you into the Alpine biome and let's you get face to face with some furry animals including the zoo's red pandas.

The Cave

This exhibit contains most of the zoos nocturnal animals and some enclosed reptile exhibits. It is home to animals such as Madagascar hissing cockroach, emperor scorpion, Egyptian fruit bat, boa constrictor, and Cuvier's dwarf caiman.

Free Range Aviary

The Free Range Aviary is home tropical forest dwelling birds such as pink pigeon, mountain peacock-pheasant, ringed teal, silver-eared mesia, scarlet-chested parrot, pheasant pigeon, Gouldian finch, sunbittern, common emerald dove, Victoria crowned pigeon, speckled mousebird, and mountain bamboo partridge. Within the aviary are some enclosed animal exhibits that are home to animals such as scarlet macaws and golden-headed lion tamarins.

Aquarium of the Discovery Center[edit]

The Aquarium of the Discovery Center includes numerous aquatic environments from all around the world. A waterfall feature can also be seen above the Amazon River Pool. The Amazon River Pool includes tropical river fish such as tambaqui (Pacu), redtail catfish, and silver arowana. The coral reef exhibit is home to species of aquatic life that lives in coral reefs around the world including coral, sea anemone, clown triggerfish, foureye butterflyfish, clownfish, schooling bannerfish, yellow tang, and Achilles tang. The Pacific Northwest Aquarium is home to species that are native to the cold waters off British Columbia, including white-spotted rose anemone, giant sea star, purple sea star, kelp greenling.

African Boardwalk[edit]

The African Boardwalk takes visitors on an elevated trail through the African Savannah where visitors see native wildlife including reticulated giraffe, grey crowned crane, lesser kudu, Ankole-Watusi cattle, ostrich, addax, and helmeted guineafowl. This exhibit is currently being overhauled by the new African exhibit Jamaa Kwa: Africa, which opened in spring 2013.

David Kruidenier Australia Adventure[edit]

Completed in July 2011, this Australian-themed section of the zoo brings you into the great Australian outback, which includes an Australian themed barn, and many Australian animals including double-wattled cassowary, laughing kookaburra, red-necked wallaby, common peafowl, and emu. The Australian aviary within this exhibit is home to birds such as rainbow lorikeet, red lory, cattle egret, chestnut teal, palm cockatoo, woodland kingfisher, Nicobar pigeon, and budgerigar.

Kids' Kingdom[edit]

In late June 2007, the zoo, The Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, and hundreds of volunteers from around Des Moines built the new Kids' Kingdom playground. It includes 5,600 sq ft (520 m2) of slides, mazes, monkey bars, sand pits, fossil digs and more. Another fun new attraction is the mining sluice. This area also features many "contact animals" that visitors can feed. Animals in this area include Nigerian dwarf goats, llamas, miniature donkeys, zebu, Meishan pigs, Brahma chickens, koi fish, trumpeter swans, and dromedary camels.

Tom and Jo Ghrist Big Cat Complex[edit]

The zoo's cat exhibit opened in 1999 with snow leopards, Amur tigers, and African lions. Recently, this exhibit got a facelift with new interactive displays and new viewing area rocks.[when?]

Hub Harbor Pinniped Pavilion[edit]

The new seal/sea lion pool opened March 17, 2012 after a year of reconstruction to the old pool. The exhibit now features two high rise viewing areas, as well as an underwater viewing area where you can see the zoo's two California sea lions and three harbor seals. The newest residents to the pool are Ross & Meru who came to the Blank Park Zoo from British Columbia. They were rescued off the coast of Canada when they were just five days old, severely malnurished and dehydrated. It was then up to the Vancouver Marine Mammal Rescue Center to nurse them back to health. After careful examination, the center declared that they were non-releasable due to health disabilities. They were then found a permanent home at the zoo after the reconstruction of Hub Harbor; where they now reside.

Miscellaneous animal exhibits[edit]

In addition to animals in the major exhibits, the zoo includes many individual exhibits that are home to animals including bald eagles, Chilean flamingoes, North American river otters, black-tailed prairie dogs, Aldabra giant tortoise, ring-tailed lemurs, Magellanic penguins, common squirrel monkeys, king vultures, white-handed gibbons, Japanese macaques.

Educational animals[edit]

The zoo also uses live animals in its educational outreach programs. These animals include European polecat, American alligator, Madagascar hissing cockroach, tiger salamander, ornate box turtle, gopher tortoise, Senegal parrot, marine toad, and red-tailed hawk.

Conservation initiatives[edit]

Starting in 1997, The Blank Park Zoo Conservation Committee has raised funds for a wide variety of worldwide conservation projects. The primary projects of the Committee must be international, must focus on protecting animals or their natural ecosystems, and must also have some tie to the Blank Park Zoo. Money is collected through various means such as children's face painting, special event raffles, and coin donation buckets.

In 2012, the Conservation Committee participates in these projects:

  • Species Survival Plan - programs set up for endangered species in captivity.
  • The International Snow Leopard Trust - to protect the natural habitat of snow leopards.
  • Greater Prairie Chicken Project - helping restore & sustain Iowa's population of native chickens.
  • Giraffe Conservation Foundation - helping to promote and support giraffe conservation initiatives.
  • The Great Ape Trust - aimed to rescue orangutans and bonobos in areas of deforestation and poaching.
  • Panamanian Golden Frogs - aimed to sponsor a program to release captive frogs into the wild.

Special events[edit]

--As of 2013 dates--

  • Lil' Bookworms: Tuesdays in January & February; educational story time for preschool children while visiting the zoo.
  • Eggstravaganza: Saturday, March 30; Easter celebration, participate in your own Easter fun, along with the animals of the zoo. Egg hunts, scavenger hunts, craft activities and games, and a visit from the Easter Bunny!
  • I Do At The Zoo: Sunday, May 5; brides to meet with dozens of vendors including DJs, local cake shops, dress boutiques and photographers to help get ready for the big day at the zoo!
  • Adventure Days: Second Saturday of the month May through August; summer series revolves around the zoo’s mission statement to inspire an appreciation of the natural world through education, conservation and recreation. Adventure Days will spark a child’s creativity through crafts and games, engage them in scavenger hunts and other activities, and educate on the importance of conservation.
  • Zoo Brew: Wednesdays in June, July & August; those 21 and over, Blank Park Zoo comes to life after hours every Wednesday in the summer. Each week this popular event features different themes, bands, and drinks while guests visit all the animals of the zoo.
  • Campout at the Zoo: Friday, June 21; snooze at the zoo with your friends and family for an overnight experience unlike any you've ever had before. Pitch a tent and see the animals of the zoo after-hours while enjoying other camping themed activities.
  • 2013 ZACC Conference: July 8 through July 12; hosts the 2013 Zoos and Aquariums: Committing to Conservation conference.
  • Grandma's Day: July 12; help Blank Park Zoo celebrate that bond by joining us for Grandma’s Day at the zoo. This fundraiser is designed to provide an extra-special zoo experience for grandmas, grandchildren, and of course, grandpas!
  • Zoobilation: Friday, September 20; Blank Park Zoo’s annual fall gala. Whether you enjoy the zoo for the animals, education, conservation or all of its aspects, this event will allow you to support your favorite features all while enjoying food, cocktails and fun entertainment.
  • Zooktoberfest: Wednesday, October 2; Zoo Brew with an October twist! This event features the best seasonal beers, Oktoberfest-style food, live entertainment, and of course, all the animals of the zoo.
  • Night Eyes: October 17–20 & October 24-27th; returning for its 23rd year of the sweetest Halloween fun in Central Iowa. Costumed guests are invited to go on a treat safari in a world of lights, castles, and storybook characters. Ride the train, race tractors and skip down Scarecrow Lane to get to the Fun Zone during this merry, not scary, trick-or-treating event for the whole family to enjoy!
  • Santa at the Zoo: December 8 & December 15; Take your picture with Santa, visit his reindeer, and make arts and crafts. Also explore the zoo’s Discovery Center and watch some of the big cats open a few early Christmas presents! Complete with cookies and cocoa this is a holiday event for all to enjoy.

Future plans[edit]

Jaama Kwa: Connection to Africa - the construction for a multimillion-dollar, state of the art, African themed exhibit began in spring 2012. The new African exhibit will be a new addition to the "African Boardwalk" that is currently housing the zoo's collection of African animals. The new exhibit will include numerous species and visitor interactives. Phase 1: Rhino Savannah opened in May 2013 at a cost of $4 million.


  1. ^ a b "Zoo History". Blank Park Zoo. Retrieved 17 March 2012.

External links[edit]