In the late 1960s, members of the Battle Creek Jaycees, Jaycees Auxiliary, and the Battle Creek Kiwanis Club originated the idea of building a children’s zoo in Battle Creek. The idea was nurtured and developed over time and funds were raised by these organizations and by the newly formed Battle Creek Children’s Zoo Steering Committee.
In August 1975, the name of the organization was changed to the Binder Park Zoological Society, Inc. and the Society was incorporated as a private, nonprofit corporation. The Zoological Society leased 83 acres of the then 655-acre Charles Binder Park from the City of Battle Creek for $1 per year, and in 1985, the zoo leased an additional 87 acres for a total of 170. In 1991, the acreage was expanded to 405 acres. (Since then, the zoo has purchased an additional 28 acres for a total of 433 acres.) The first employee, the zoo director, started work April 1, 1977 and the first exhibits opened that summer. With the purchase of the first Zoomobile in 1978, the Zoomobile Outreach Programs were launched. A comprehensive master plan for the development of the zoo was approved by the Board of Directors in 1979. From 1977 through 1992, a number of major exhibits and facilities were constructed with donated funds: Wildlife Education Center offices and teaching areas in 1982, Animal Care Center in 1983, cheetah exhibit and Safari Gift Shop in 1988, the two-acre Miller Children’s Zoo in 1989, Beulah’s Restaurant In The Zoo and the Chinese red panda exhibit in 1991, plus many other exhibits and other facilities.
In 1992, a new master plan was developed for Binder Park Zoo. The plan featured the construction of the spectacular 50-acre Wild Africa exhibit, including a panoramic 18-acre savanna with giraffe, zebra, ostrich, antelope, and a variety of other birds and antelope; new guest service and education facilities; and 11 other animal exhibits. The plan also featured Swamp Adventure, a 3/4 mile interpretive boardwalk through six natural wetland habitats; the Conservation Discovery Center, a dynamic hands-on facility with a discovery lab including live animal exhibits; and expanded guest and support facilities, such as scenic hiking trails, beautiful picnic areas with sheltered seating, greatly expanded parking, a new veterinary hospital, and a new administration/meeting center. We met our $17.1 million fund drive goal, successfully completing the largest fund drive ever undertaken in our region. This plan was completed with the opening of the Wild Africa in 1999.
Guided by our mission through the original master plan and subsequent updates, the development of the zoo has progressed in exciting and innovative ways. Since our opening in 1977, attendance has increased rapidly, encouraging the addition of new exhibits, facilities, and programs. In twenty-three years, Binder Park Zoo has maintained the highest standards of operation. We have been accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) since 1983 and were last reaccredited in 1998. Our commitment to nurturing conservation of nature is evidenced by our national and international participation in expanding conservation programs, including participation and leadership in 16 of the AZA’s Species Survival Plans, participation and leadership in several of the AZA’s Taxon Advisory Groups, and participation in other state and national conservation programs. Our commitment to nurturing empathy and understanding of nature is evidenced by our very large and successful education programs, the largest and most diverse of any zoo our size.
Binder Park Zoo is the region’s leading cultural center for natural history education, wildlife conservation, and outdoor recreation. Binder Park Zoo is now the ninth largest cultural attraction in the state of Michigan.