The History of ZooTampa

Our History

Tampa’s Zoo Opens

History 1930s photo of Lowry Park Zoo

The City of Tampa opened and maintained a zoo at Plant Park on the grounds of the University of Tampa. The animals in their care were primarily indigenous animals, such as raccoons, alligators, and an aviary of exotic birds.

The Zoo Moves to Lowry Park

Historic photo of rainbow bridge at Fairyland at Lowry Park in the 1970s

Historic Lowry Park Zoo Tampa Bay logo

Mayor Nick Nuccio moved the Tampa City Zoo to Lowry Park, where it was maintained by Tampa’s Parks Department. The Zoo shared the park with Fairyland.

Focus Shifts to Upgrading the Zoo

A historic photo of a family on the railroad ride at Lowry Park Zoo

As the animal population continued to grow through the 1970s, the need to upgrade the habitats and present the animals in natural settings became an issue fully embraced by the Tampa Bay community, which resulted in the formation of an organization dedicated to building a first-class zoological garden.

The Lowry Park Zoo Association is formed

Tampas Lowry Park Zoo historic old logo

The Tampa Parks Department and Citizens Advisory Board call for zoo improvements. The Lowry Park Zoo Association formed at the suggestion of the Tampa Parks Department, Mayor Bob Martinez, and private citizens who shared a common vision. Its mission was to raise awareness of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and promote a public-private partnership to fund the renaissance of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. Soon after, the Zoo Association embarked on a $20 million capital campaign, and the City of Tampa committed $8 million.

Lowry Park Association Formed

The Lowry Park Zoo Association formed at the suggestion of the Tampa Parks Department, Mayor Bob Martinez, and private citizens who shared a common vision.

A Zoo Master Plan

The Zoo Board of Directors developed a comprehensive 24-acre Zoo master plan.

A Rejuvenated Lowry Park Zoo re-opens

The Zoo Association became the Lowry Park Zoological Society of Tampa, Inc, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the management and ongoing development of a superior zoological garden. The Zoo re-opened on March 5, 1988 with a Free-Flight Aviary, Asian Domain, Primate World and the Children’s Village/Petting Zoo.

The Zoo Gains AZA Accreditation

Accredited by the Associate of Zoos and Aquariums AZA logo

The Zoo received accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The Florida Wildlife Center opens

The Florida Wildlife Center opened (now known as Mason M. and Charles P. Lykes Florida Wildlife Center).

New Additions to the Zoo

The Manatee and Aquatic Center opened (home to the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center).

Event Pavilion Constructed

Saunders Pavilion, a 10,000-square-foot structure, was constructed to provide an area for meeting and banquet facilities, educational programs, and special exhibitions.

A Zoo for Everyone

The Zoo made history by becoming the highest attended non-profit zoo in Florida.

Interactive Areas & Amphitheaters Unveiled

A 1,500-square-foot interactive area was built featuring hands-on displays, exhibits, artifacts, videos and a small insect zoo. An adjoining amphitheater, the Saunders Conservation Theater, was later added for the Zoo’s “Reptile Encounter” programs; and a “Birds of Prey” ZooVentures amphitheater was constructed to allow visitors to soar with a variety of owls, hawks, eagles and falcons.

Whimsical & Wild Jungle Carousel

The Zoo added a jungle carousel, presented by The Lowry Murphey Family Foundation, featuring 33 handcrafted figures of animals that take kids on a whimsical wildlife adventure.

Zoo School Bell Rings as classes open for first time

The Florida Environmental Education Center, “Zoo School,” opened on the area once occupied by Fairyland.

Wallaroo Station Unvieled

Wallaroo Station, an Australian-themed area for young children and families opened.

Let’s Go on a Safari

Entrance and signage for the Africa real, formally known as Safari Africa, in ZooTampa at Lowry Park

The first phase of “Safari Africa” opened in May. The Zoo expansion created the current 61 acre site.

Zoo Recognition

The State of Florida formally recognized the Zoo as a center for biodiversity and conservation.

Africa Realm Opens

Two African Elephants play in the water at ZooTampa

The Zoo opened the first phase of Africa – the largest realm opening since ZooTampa reopened its doors in 1988.

Expedition Africa Safari Ride Opens

Expedition Africa Safari Tram Ride

The Zoo introduced a new behind-the-scenes Safari Ride called Expedition Africa, a guided tour of the Africa habitat area.

Over 1 Million Visitors

For the fiscal year ending September 2006, and for the first time in the Zoo’s history, ZooTampa exceeded one million visitors.

The Zoo Adds Penguin Beach & More

African Penguins look into the water before jumping in for a swim at Penguin Beach at ZooTampa

Several notable additions were made to better serve the record number of visitors: a collection of five new habitats known as the Ituri Forest within Africa; a colony of African penguins in a new year-round outdoor habitat called Penguin Beach; and a newly remodeled Asian Gardens area.

New Building

Image of the Savanna Oasis restaurant at ZooTampa at Lowry Park

The Bank of America Safari Lodge, today known as the Savanna Oasis, opened.

The Best Zoo for Kids

Parents magazine, the nation’s leading parenting magazine with a community of 15 million readers, named ZooTampa at Lowry Park the best Zoo for kids in its first ever “10 Best Zoos” survey.

More than 300 Manatees Cared For

The manatee care team examines a rescued manatee at the critical care center at ZooTampa

A milestone was reached at the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center, having taken in more than 300 manatees since 1991.

Nonprofit of the Year

The Zoo is named Nonprofit of the Year (Environment and Animals), by Tampa Bay Business Journals.

Veterinary Hospital & Animal Nutrition Center Completed

The 12,000 square foot Catherine Lowry Straz Veterinary Hospital and 2,000 square foot Animal Commissary were completed.

Clinical Fellowship Established at University of Florida

A 2-year graduate clinical fellowship was established with the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, combining clinical training in zoological and aquatic medicine with graduate study in manatee health and conservation.

Raking in the Awards

The Zoo was awarded the Edward H. Bean Award (African bush elephant program) by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), as well as the Travelers’ Choice™ award and Certificate of Excellence award from TripAdvisor®, the world’s largest travel site.

First AAHA Zoo Hospital

The Catherine Lowry Straz Veterinary Hospital became the first ever zoo hospital to receive American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) accreditation.

Wallaroo Renovated

Renovation was completed at Wallaroo Station – a 4.5-acre Australian-themed, family-friendly park area that includes an interactive petting zoo, water play area, and delicious dining.

Unforgettable Seasonal Events Introduced

A family enjoys holiday treats while they gather by the huge Christmas tree at ZooTampa

New seasonal events, like Creatures of the Night & Christmas in the Wild, were introduced to bring the holidays to another level for families to enjoy.

Jacarlene Animal Care Campus

Image of the Jacarlene Animal Care Campus at ZooTampa at Lowry Park

The Zoo opened the Jacarlene Animal Care Campus featuring the Catherine Lowry Straz Veterinary Hospital and the Tiedemann-Cotton Animal Care Annex.

The Zoo Becomes ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Guests approach the main entrance of ZooTampa at Lowry Park

The Zoo redefined its Vision, Mission, and Brand for the future and a new logo was introduced: ZooTampa at Lowry Park. The Zoo began modernizing the Florida pathways with the opening of Roaring Springs.

Roaring Springs Opens with a Splash

Guests at ZooTampa raise their arms into the air as they splash down into the water at the bottom of a three story drop on the Roaring Springs water ride at ZooTampa

An all-new water adventure ride was announced – Roaring Springs! This marked the first phase of the Florida realm’s full refurbishment, complete with an updated Florida panther habitat, updated water habitats & more!

Wildlife Conservation Center

The Sandy and Tom Callahan Center for Wildlife Conservation opens.

Record-Breaking Attendance

Zoo attendance surpasses 1.2 million.


The Frosty® Cart by Wendy’s® – the first-of-it’s-kind in the country – Opens in Wallaroo

A child smiles as he get a Frosty from the Wendys Frosty Cart at ZooTampa

ZooTampa and The Wendy’s Company began an exciting partnership with the launch of an original concept and delicious way for guests to stay cool in the Florida sunshine. The Frosty® Cart by Wendy’s®, the first-of-it’s-kind in the country, is located at the Wallaroo section of the Zoo’s Australia-themed family area and features classic chocolate and vanilla Frosty treats, Frosty Fusions, and a Build-Your-Own Frosty Sundae option. Guests can enjoy Lucky Charms™, marshmallows or Oreo® cookie pieces on their Wendy’s® Frosty!

Adventure Awaits on the All-New Expedition Wild Africa

Expedition Wild Africa Safari Ride

The original Expedition Africa Tram Ride was retired, reimagined, and rebuilt to bring an all-new safari tour to Zoo-goers. Guests become “research interns” and travel aboard our custom-built open-air expedition vehicles through the Habari Preserve to get up-close with many of our African animals, while the Habari Preserve team teaches them about the amazing animals that call the preserve home. Founder of the preserve Professor Ron Treadway and ZooTampa research assistants lead the orientation tour, where guests learn how we’re working hard to continue our mission to save wildlife in wild places.

ZooTampa Safely Welcomes Its One Millionth Visitor of 2021

ZooTampa celebrated an attendance milestone for fiscal year 2021 by surprising its millionth visitor with a GET WILD SAFELY celebration. The Insixiengmay family, from Apple Valley, Minnesota, was greeted by an entourage of Zoo team members, gifts and much more. Despite COVID safety protocols that restricted crowd flow, ZooTampa hit its highest attendance ever during 2021.

The Zoo Celebrates a Banner Year with Several Awards

ZooTampa proudly achieved many milestones in 2021, and was recognized with awards by several organizations, including:

  • 2021 Travelers’ Choice by Tripadvisor
  • Best of Weddings 2021 by The Knot
  • Winner of Best Family Attraction of 2021 by Tampa Magazines readers
  • Winner of Best of South Tampa 2021 by South Tampa Magazine readers
Voted USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards
ZooTampa care team treating an injured manatee at the David A Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center

ZooTampa at Lowry Park and our David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center have been awarded USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards 2023 for Best Zoo and Best Zoo Exhibit.

ZooTampa Leadership


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