History of Potter Park Zoo


The beautiful more than three acre moose exhibit opens. The newly remodeled spider monkey exhibit becomes home to a pair of red pandas and two cubs are born in the summer. Work begins to create a nature play space in the Backyard Garden. The county millage passes by a record margin.



Construction begins on the moose exhibit. Beloved black rhino, Jello, passes away due to complications from his medical condition. Zookambi summer camp experiences record attendance. The king vulture gets a new exhibit courtesy of an Eagle Scout project.


Two of the tiger cubs born in 2011 are sent to another zoo and their mother goes to John Ball Zoo. The father and one cub remain at Potter Park Zoo. Two new wolves arrive and work gets underway on the raven exhibit. Plans are made to refurbish the spider monkey exhibit to make it suitable for red pandas.


Planning is underway for the proposed moose exhibit. The coral reef exhibit closes after 8.5 years and the space is reclaimed as a classroom for the high school zoo and aquarium sciences class. For the first time, a male river otter is born at Potter Park Zoo.


The zoo moves to a public/private partnership; Potter Park Zoo successfully undergoes re-accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA); the Big Zoo Lesson is awarded high honors at the AZA national conference.



Black rhino exhibit opens; the Big Zoo Party returns; three Amur tiger cubs are born in September.




Potter Park Zoo celebrates its 90th anniversary; opens a new eagle owl exhibit; breaks ground for the black rhino exhibit; and the first Wine & Stein event takes place.


The largest class of Docents, with 27 students, graduated from the Zoo’s Docent training program in April.

In May, Potter Park Zoo opened its new Wings from Down Under exhibit, an interactive Aviary that allows Zoo guest to get an up close view of more than 500 Australian birds.

Work began on a new Zoo Master Plan.



The New American Bald Eagle Exhibit opened to the public.




Ingham County took over in July as the managing and supporting entity of the zoo. The Potter Park Zoo Advisory Board was created with the appointment of nine area residents to serve in an advisory capacity to the Ingham County Parks and Recreation Commission.

Potter Park Zoo renews its AZA accreditation.


Construction was completed and the new River Otter and Arctic Fox exhibit was opened to the public.

Later that year, Ingham County residents approved a countywide millage in favor of the zoo.


A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new River Otter and Arctic Fox exhibit.

The new Corals, Conservation and Clownfish exhibit housed in the Discovery Center opened to the public.

Three critically endangered tiger cubs were born at the zoo. The triplets were so popular that they were later featured on the NBC Today show.


The Zoo Society’s first Big Zoo Party was held.


Ivan, the Zoo’s mascot and the oldest living Amur Tiger in North America, succumbs to old age. Ivan was 20 years old.




The Rotary Club of Lansing donated $50,000 to build a new Vet Clinic at the Zoo.


The new Entry Plaza and the Discovery Center opened to the public.


Two Species Survival Plan snow leopard cubs were born at the zoo.


The Zoo kicks of its 75th birthday celebration with the unveiling of a new master plan.


Wolf Woods and the Trappers Cabin were officially opened after extensive renovation of the old wolf exhibit.



A new restaurant/restroom concession building opened for business. The Potter Park Zoological Society also held the first Wonderland of Lights holiday event.




The Farmyard renovation project was completed and opened to the public in September. A new Pony Path was also constructed replacing the old ring ride. Goff Food Stores sponsored first Goff Zoo Days at the Zoo, an event that would later go on to become Potter Park Zoo’s biggest summer attraction. Rare triplet Amur tiger cubs were born.


The residents of the City of Lansing overwhelmingly approved a 1 mill parks levy for five years to help support the zoo.

The first 5K Rhino Walk was held to help raise money for the Zoo’s rhino exhibit.


The grand reopening of the Lion House, which was renamed the Feline/Primate Building opens. Tombi the elephant was transferred to the Indianapolis Zoo.


Spider Monkeys were placed in a new Monkey Island exhibit funded by the Association of Women Builders.

With a $100,000 donation from Harold Gross, work began on the Lion House.



The Friends of the Zoo became the Potter Park Zoological Society.

Construction was completed and the penguin exhibit was opened for visitors.

The first Docent class of 12 adults graduated


A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new Penguin Exhibit. The exhibit was to house 9 pairs of South American Penguins.


The newly renovated Aviary opened to the public after 6 years of planning.


Tombi the elephant was purchased for $15,400.


Sonny and Butch, twin African Lion cubs, were born at the Zoo.


Plans were started to build a new Aviary.


The Zoo railroad began offering rides for 25 cents.


The Friends of the Zoo Society raised $4,453 to purchase Bingo, the Zoo’s first elephant.


Potter Park Zoo had fallen into disrepair during the 1960s when it experienced financial hardships. Help came in 1969 when Jim Hough, a columnist for the Lansing State Journal, brought together local residents to form the Friends of the Zoo Society, a group dedicated to help fundraise for the Zoo.


The Zoo’s animal collection dramatically grew in size with the addition of tigers, baboons, kangaroos and otters.


The barnyard was completed.


The first aviary was introduced.


By now, Potter Park Zoo was visited by more than 120,000 people and operated on an annual budget of $7,500.


The Depression brought tough times for all, but the Zoo managed to obtain Federal Funds to build Monkey Island.


Construction was completed on the Lion House.


The Bird House, later renamed the Bird and Reptile House, was completed.


Sophie Turner, a Lansing resident, presented 17 acres to the City of Lansing for Potter Park, bringing the Zoo’s total acreage to 102.



Elk, transferred from Moore’s Park, became the first animal residents of the new Potter Park Zoo. Later that year, Charles Davis bestowed to the Zoo several other animals, including a bear, a pair of raccoons, and several deer.




Mr. Potter, concerned with southeastern Lansing’s development, encouraged the City of Lansing to spend $20,000 to extend the street car line to Mt. Hope Cemetery, making the park and additional land accessible.


Due to the popularity of Potter Park, Mr. & Mrs. Potter contributed an additional 27 acres, increasing the park’s size to 85 acres.



J.W. and Sarah Potter donated 58 acres of land to the City of Lansing which later became known as Potter Park.

The official dedication ceremony was held July 4, 1915.


*Photos courtesy of the Lansing State Journal