Zoological Society of Milwaukee announces $25 million capital campaign

Zoo has raised $16.7 million for Adventure Africa improvements

A rendering of the new elephant watering hole.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:11 pm

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee went public Thursday with a $25 million capital campaign to fund the new Adventure Africa complex at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

An aerial rendering of the new elephant yard.

The campaign has raised more than $16.7 million to date toward that goal, thanks to lead gifts from the Dohmen Family Foundation, Holz Family Foundation, Ladish Family Foundation and MillerCoors during the quiet phase of the campaign, said Jodi Gibson, Zoological Society president and chief executive officer.

The project will provide new homes for the zoo’s elephant, hippos and rhinos. Leaders said the development, which will occupy about 25 percent of the zoo’s existing footprint, will be the largest physical change to the zoo at its current location.

“(The zoo has) an economic impact of over $150 million. That’s important,” said Chuck Wikenhauser, Milwaukee County Zoo director. “And in order to keep that attendance and popularity and that economic impact, it means we have to keep up with modern zoological practices and displays, as well as making sure that the welfare of our animal collection is top notch.”

A rendering of the new elephant watering hole.

Construction is already underway on the new elephant exhibit, which is expected to open to the public in spring 2019.

Other components of the elephant exhibit include a semi-heated outdoor area for the elephants to enjoy in winter and a large barn where guests can see the elephants year-round when they are inside. The yard will also be filled with enrichment items for the elephants.

The second and third phases of the Adventure Africa project include a new hippo exhibit with underwater viewing and a new rhino exhibit, which will be located where the elephants currently live. The zoo does not currently have timelines for those projects.

A rendering of the elephant barn.

Gibson said leaders have sketched out a 25-year plan for future projects at the zoo, which would likely include the addition of an exhibit called “Alaska’s Cold Coast” and a Northern woods exhibit.

“Because this is a 25-year vision, it might evolve over time,” she said. “We’ll move through the footprint of the zoo, but what’s great about starting with Adventure Africa is that it represents 25 percent of the developed footprint of the zoo, so the first phase will really transform the zoo and have a significant impact on the property and visitor experience.”

In addition to making a lead gift to the campaign, MillerCoors has signed on as the presenting sponsor of the return of the “Beasties,” a public art exhibit designed by Milwaukee artist Dennis Pearson, which will make appearances at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and around Milwaukee and the Waukesha area throughout the summer. The statues will be auctioned off in August with the proceeds benefiting the campaign.

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