The Dakota Zoo began on 67-acres of farmland owned by Mark and Betty Christianson, located on the northern edge of Bismarck, North Dakota. Originally the Christianson farm was operated as a kennel for the boarding of domestic animals such as cats, dogs and horses. At one point in time, the Christianson's raised mink for profit on the farm. Over time, people would bring sick and injured animals to the Christianson's for rehabilitation. The farm grew in popularity as people brought more and more animals in, eventually curiosity grew and groups started to visit the farm.
With the help of the Marshall Bill Show, petitions were signed by 780 people and Mr. Christian took the petitions to the Bismarck Park Board to present his ideas about turning the farm into a zoo. The Bismarck Zoo was to be a fully functional, self-supporting facility that existed with no assistance required from the City of Bismarck. The case was presented to the Park Board in 1958, and the Park made available an 88-acre tract of land in Sertoma Park.
The Bismarck Zoo officially opened its doors on July 3rd, 1961, with 75 mammals and 23 birds. More than 10,000 people visited the zoo in its first year of operation alone. Currently, the zoo welcomes approximately 100,000 visitors through the gates and has more than 125 species of birds and mammals. Membership at the Bismarck Zoo has grown to include 3,400 people.
In the summer of 1987, the Zoo was challenged by the Bismarck Tribune to develop a plan which would outline an orderly and organized growth plan. After accepting the challenge, the zoo board drew up plans to make this happen. The plan is reviewed and updated on a consistent basis, with the last major redevelopment occurring in 2005.
Beginning in 1988, the zoo began a major fundraiser to raise money for, "Beyond the Bear Necessities'' campaign, which raised an estimated $1.2 million. As a result of the successful campaign, the zoo was able to add many exhibits such as the Bear Habitat, River Otter Exhibit and the Canine Exhibit and many other displays. In 1996, the zoo began another campaign, "Discovery 2000: Turning Dollars into Sense,'' the goal of the campaign was to raise $1.5 million, to make other major improvements. Resulting exhibits include Moose, Mountain Goats, Mountain Lions, Bobcats, Lynx and the addition of a Discovery Zoo.
Today, the Dakota Zoo remains both self sufficient and self supporting and raises money through admissions fees, concessions and animal sales, membership fees, the adopt an animal program and private donations. Since 1991, the zoo has maintained the highest standard of animal care and as a result is a member of the Association for Zoos and Aquariums. The Zoo is opened during the summer hours from 10 am until 7 pm, and during the winter hours from 1 pm until 5 pm, with zoo grounds closing at 5:30 pm.