History of ZooTampa

A look back at

The History of ZooTampa

Our History


Tampa’s Zoo Opens

History 1930s photo of Lowry Park Zoo

Tampa’s first zoo was established on the banks of the Hillsborough River in Plant Park. It consisted of a small number of indigenous animals such as raccoons, alligators and an aviary with a variety 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

As the number of animals grew, they were moved to the more centrally located Lowry Park, by Mayor Nick Nuccio, where it was maintained by Tampa’s Parks Department. At that time, the Zoo shared Lowry 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 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.


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.


A Rejuvenated Lowry Park Zoo re-opens

The Lowry Park 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 rejuvenated Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo re-opened on March 5, 1988 with a Free-Flight Aviary, Asian Domain, Primate World and the Children’s Village/Petting Zoo. More than 614,000 people visited the Zoo during its first 12 months.


The Zoo Gains AZA Accreditation

The Zoo received accreditation from the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (now known as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums – AZA).


The Florida Wildlife Center opens

The Florida Wildlife Center opened in phases, between 1990 and 1991, featuring a world-renowned Manatee Aquatic Center and Rehabilitation Hospital. The exhibit is known today as the Mason M. and Charles P. Lykes Florida Wildlife Center and houses the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center. Two free-flight aviaries were also constructed for visitors to enjoy.


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.


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 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.


Whimsical & Wild Jungle Carousel

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


Zoo School Bell Rings as classes open for first time

Classes began in the fall at the new Florida Environmental Education Center, nicknamed “The Zoo School”. This state-of-the-art education center was the first full-time licensed childcare center operated by a U.S. Zoo.


Wallaroo Station Unvieled

The Zoo opens Wallaroo Station – a 4.5-acre Australian-themed family area that includes a variety of Australian animals and wildlife interactions. Wallaroo Station replaced the former children’s village/petting zoo, which had opened in 1988.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Veterinary Hospital & Animal Nutrition Center Completed

The 12,000 square foot Catherine Lowry Straz Veterinary Hospital and 2,000 square foot Animal Nutrition Center was completed with funding from the New Horizons Campaign.


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.


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!


The Zoo Becomes ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Guests approach the main entrance of ZooTampa at Lowry Park

ZooTampa at Lowry Park revealed a new logo with a nod to the past, but an eye on the future.