History of ZooTampa

A look back at

The History of ZooTampa

Our History

1930

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 our care were primarily indigenous animals such as raccoons, alligators and an aviary of exotic birds.

1957

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.

1970

Focus Shifts to Upgrading the Zoo

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

As the animals 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.

1981

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.

1982

Lowery 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.

1984

A Zoo Master Plan

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

1988

A Rejuvenated Lowry Park Zoo re-opens

The Zoo Association became the Lowry Park Zoological Society, 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.

1989

The Zoo Gains AZA Accreditation

Accredited by the Associate of Zoos and Aquariums AZA logo

The Zoo received accreditation from the Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.

1990

The Florida Wildlife Center opens

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

1991

New Additions to the Zoo

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

1995

Event Pavilion Constructed

A 10,000-square-foot pavilion was constructed to provide an area for meeting and banquet facilities, educational programs and special exhibitions.

1996

A Zoo for Everyone

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

1997

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 was later added for the Zoo’s “Reptile Encounter” programs; and a “Birds of Prey” amphitheater was constructed to allow visitors to soar with a variety of owls, hawks, eagles and falcons.

1998

Whimsical & Wild Jungle Carousel

The Zoo added a Jungle Carousel featuring 33 handcrafted figures of animals that take kids on a whimsical, wildlife adventure.

2000

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.

2002

Wallaroo Station Unvieled

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

2002

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.

2004

Zoo Recognition

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

2004

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.

2006

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.

2006

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.

2007

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.

2008

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.

2009

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.

2013

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.

2013

Nonprofit of the Year

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

2014

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.

2014

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.

2014

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.

2014

First AAHA Zoo Hospital

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

2015

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.

2016

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.

2017

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.

2018

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.

2018

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!

2019

Wildlife Conservation Center

The Sandy and Tom Callahan Center for Wildlife Conservation opens.

2021

Attendance

Zoo attendance surpasses 1.2 million.

2021

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!

2021

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.

2021

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.

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