The Sedgwick County Zoo is a Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited Wildlife Park and major attraction in Wichita, Kansas. Founded in 1971 with the help of the Sedgwick County Zoological Society, the zoo has quickly become recognized both nationally and internationally for its support of conservation programs and successful breeding of rare and endangered species. Having over 2,500 animals of nearly 500 different species, the zoo has slowly increased its visitors and now ranks as the number one outdoor tourist attraction in the state.
The Sedgwick County Zoo was established by the volunteer efforts of civic-minded citizens who formed the Sedgwick County Zoological Society in 1963, many years before the Zoo would take shape. They lobbied the Sedgwick County commissioners and through a petition succeeded in getting a bond referendum on the ballot. After it passed in 1966, the real work began. A visionary director, Ronald L. Blakely, presented a master plan that was approved in 1969 and construction began in earnest. When the American and Asian farms opened as the only exhibits in 1971, families were pleased, but they had little idea of the great things that were in store.
The newly expanded Cargill Learning Center, completed in 2006, kept all the existing space of the previous building (reconfiguring a few areas) and added square footage to the south and the west toward the Zoo Entrance and the Asian Farm. The 15,000 square foot learning center boasts four permanent classrooms, a large auditorium, a library, interior and exterior gathering places and a channel that connects the learning center to the interior of the Zoo.
In 2007 new residents arrived. They’re popular, much sought-after and look spiffy in black and white. They're Humboldt penguins and they call Cessna Penguin Cove their home at Sedgwick County Zoo. Again the animals received a warm welcome with 591,697 guests that year. As the number of visiting guests has grown, so has the need for quality food choices and spaces to eat. A new restaurant now stands in the Zoo’s Central Plaza. The Plaza Beastro includes expanded indoor and outdoor eating areas, a larger pond and new landscaping. The Plaza Beastro opened in April 2008.
In 2009 the Zoo opened an eagerly awaited, world-class tiger exhibit — the Slawson Family Tiger Trek. The Zoo had received a donation of one million dollars and a challenge grant to begin the development of this new Asian tiger exhibit. The Zoo met the challenge to raise the second million, and the donor provided the additional third million needed to complete the exhibit. Boasting both Malayan and Amur tigers as well as a red panda and Burmese brow-antlered deer, the Slawson Family Tiger Trek is a wonderful addition to the Sedgwick County Zoo that allows our guests a glimpse into the majestic world of these incredible cats. Sedgwick County Zoo set a new record for annual attendance in 2009 with 654,494 guests.
What's next, you might ask. The Zoo is setting its sights on a new Zoo Entrance, new elephant management complex and much, much more. The Sedgwick County Zoo celebrated its 40th year in 2011