The Early Years
The roots of the Akron Zoo date back to the early 1900s and the gift of Perkins Woods Park to the City of Akron to be used for ‘the enjoyment of children.’ Two brown bears were donated, and a facility appropriate for the era was built in the park.
In 1950, a small museum of Natural History was also incorporated. On May 17, 1953, the museum was expanded to include the Akron Children’s Zoo, a menagerie of Mother Goose themes. The zoo flourished during the 50s and 60s.
In the late 1970s, the Board of Directors offered to become the governing body of the zoo. In 1980, the Board of Directors finalized contractual agreements with the City of Akron and became one of the first zoos in the country to privatize and become a non-profit organization. Mother Goose displays were changed to more natural exhibits, and animals from the Americas were added to the collection. The zoo’s name was changed to the Akron Zoological Park.
In 1989, the Akron Zoo was accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) for the first time.
The Akron Zoo has achieved accreditation without interruption since 1989.
During the 1990s, the zoo focused on its mission and goals and began to create new habitats that expanded its collection to include animals from around the world and increase involvement in wildlife conservation, while making it a more financially sound institution.
Habitats constructed in 1998 and 1999 reflected the zoo’s mission. In 1999, a new master plan was created to reflect the zoo’s plans over the next fifteen years. The master plan, which included tax support, doubled the size of the zoo and greatly increased the number of animals in the collection. The plan also aggressively increased the educational opportunities made available to the community.
In 2000, the Akron Zoo passed its first property tax, which committed $8.1 million a year to the zoo. The levy was a seven-year levy and was renewed in 2006 and 2013. In 2020, the zoo passed a renewal with a .4 mil increase for 10 years.
Tax support allowed the zoo to embark on several capital improvements which doubled the number of animal exhibits and increased the number of animals in the zoo’s care by 200% over the past 15 years. At this time the zoo was able to secure a 99-year lease of additional land from the City of Akron and the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, which more than doubled the size of the zoo.
Currently, the zoo occupies 77 acres of which 35 acres are developed with habitats, guest amenities and support facilities.
Capital projects completed since 2001 include:
- 2002: Parking lot, Wild Prairie habitat, expansion of the Roger J. Sherman Center for Animal Care
- 2003: Barnhardt Family Welcome Center, Penguin Point and Lehner Family Zoo Gardens
- 2005: Legends of the Wild and Komodo Kingdom Environmental Education Center
- 2008: Jellies – Rhythm in the Blue
- 2010: Conservation Carousel
- 2011: Farmland and the A&K Wilber Express solar train ride
- 2012: Journey to the Reef
- 2013: Mike & Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge
- 2017: Curious Creatures
- 2019: Landon & Cynthia Knight Pride of Africa
- 2021: Lehner Family Foundation Wild Asia