ZooTampa at Lowry Park is rich with history dating back to the 1930’s. Our past is important as we drive into the future

Late 1930s

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.


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.


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 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.


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

1990 – 1991

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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


In September, came the opening of Stingray Bay where visitors can pet and feed stingrays in a 16,000-gallon touch pool.


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


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

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


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

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


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.


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.


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

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


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.

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.

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


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.


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.


An all-new water adventure was announced – Roaring Springs! This adventure acted as the first phase to a whole refurbishment of the Florida area of the Zoo complete with an updated Florida panther habitat, updated water habitats and more!


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