History of the Organization

In 1916, Zoo Boise was created through a gift of rare and highly-valued birds from the Sportsman’s Club, and was also the recipient of a chimpanzee that escaped from a traveling circus that was passing through town.  During the 1920’s, the Police Department took care of the animals by visiting local restaurants and grocery stores looking for leftover food.  By WWII, the zoo had grown to display 40 different species of animals.  However, throughout the war and over the next decade, the zoo suffered from neglect, and by 1961 was in danger of being closed.

In September, 1961, a citizens task force was appointed to study this dilemma, and the Idaho Zoological Society was formed (now known as the Friends of Zoo Boise).  The Society is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that supports Zoo Boise through capital development, animal acquisition, volunteer, and education programs. The goal of each of these components is to increase public awareness, knowledge and appreciation of the zoo, wild animals, animal habitats, environment and species conservation.

Over the next few decades, city monies were used to make improvements and build new exhibits at the zoo.  Many of them still exist today, including the bear grottos, the aviaries, and the primate house.  In 1968, the Junior League donated $5,000 to help build the first children’s zoo.  In 1971, fees were charged for the first time:  $.35 for adults; $.25 for high schoolers; and $.15 for children.  The zoo received a Bengal tiger, Ben Boi, from the Los Angeles Zoo in 1975.  The original tiger exhibit now houses two rare Amur leopards. 

Over the past few years, the Friends of Zoo Boise has worked to improve Zoo Boise through the creation (or renovation) of numerous exhibits, including:  the beaver/otter house (now the Penguin Pavilion);  the new front entryway complex, Simplot Education Center, and the Zootique (gift shop); new fox and badger exhibits; a new 8,000 square foot Amur tiger exhibit (which opened in October, 1999); first phase renovation of the bear exhibit; a new captive breeding facility for the endangered Southern Idaho Ground squirrel (part of a conservation partnership with Idaho Fish & Game and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service); remodeled keeper kitchen area; new hospital/quarantine facility; expansion of the snow leopard exhibit and the Amur leopard exhibit; and of course, the exciting new Small Animal Kingdom, which opened in 2001.  On September 9, 2002, Zoo Boise achieved an important milestone — accreditation with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).  This milestone was achieved after six years of steady improvements in zoo exhibits, animal welfare, safety/security protocols, staff training, educational programs and visitor services.  The AZA is a membership organization whose members include the best zoos in the country.  The AZA provides training opportunities, joint conservation programs and sets standards for how zoos should operate.  Of the more than 2,300 institutions that have a zoo license from the USDA, only 210 have met the extensive accreditation requirements.  These requirements cover not only animal and vet care, but also education programs, safety programs, guest services, conservation, physical plant maintenance and planning.