The Dickerson Park Zoo was first established by the Springfield Park Board in 1922. The zoo was developed using funds from the Works Progress Administration in the 1930's, but during the following years, the zoo received very little development or support. As a result in 1975, the zoo had become a rundown facility and was on the verge of being shut down. A commitment from the newly formed Friends of the Zoo, resulted in the zoo being saved.
The Friends organization developed a membership base and launched educational programs, which garnered support from donors for new projects and renovations. Money was budgeted from the City of Springfield, and an admission fee was instituted to assist with offset of the costs. The zoo was spared and a plan was developed to secure the future of the facility.
The Master plan was adopted in 1985, and brought a new visualization to the zoo. The plan utilized geographical schemes and phased development, which addressed the mission statement of the zoo as its guiding concept. After being updated and revised, the Master Plan was finally completed in 1996, and with both public and private funding in place, the plan will be completely in place by 2010.
In 1986, the Dickerson Park Zoo received accreditation by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums, and again on two other occasions, most recently in 1996. With continued growth and expansion, the zoo has experienced an increase in the number of annual visitors. Because of increased travel to the Ozarks, the zoo enjoys being another attraction for people to visit.
The Dickerson Park Zoo is home to more than 500 animals that represent 160 different species. Exhibits in the zoo are themed and center around 5 geographical areas and the Diversity of Life, which showcases animals found all over the world. The zoo invites visitors to explore and enjoy a narrated "walk-through'' tour of the exhibits and displays.
A tour of the Dickerson Zoo begins with the South American exhibit. Here visitors can see Rheas, walk through a Chilean Flamingo aviary, view Maned Wolves and Cotton Top Tamarins. Across the boardwalk is Hamlin Lake, featuring Patagonian cavies, two species of Macaw, a pair of Toucans, a Squirrel Monkey enclosure and a family of Black-handed Spider monkeys.
Upon concluding the South American exhibit tour, visitors enter "Australia'', which features Red kangaroos, emus, wallabies and Black swans. At the Outback Corral, guests can feed and interact with a wide variety of domestic and protected animals in a contact setting. Other animals found in the "Australia'' exhibit are kookaburras, Electus parrots and several others.
Missouri Habitats is a natural forested exhibit devoted to the Missouri wilderness. The exhibit highlights the commitment between the Dickerson Park Zoo and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Guests are invited to view Black bears, coyotes, Red foxes, raccoons, bobcats, and North American river otters can been seen through underwater viewing windows. In the summer of 2004, the zoo opened the final phase of the Missouri Habitats exhibit and added Mountain lions, Gray wolves and White-tailed deer.
The final representation of the Master Plan was "Tropical Asia'', which opened in two phases, in 2004 and 2006. The most popular addition to the exhibit is the zoos herd of four Asian elephants, which are housed in an outdoor space with a 40,000-gallon pool and enclosure. Malayan tigers were returned to the zoo in 2004, and continue to be one of the most viewed animals at the zoo. Beyond the elephant enclosure lies an exhibit devoted to White-cheeked Gibbons, the display is open year round because of both indoor and outdoor viewing areas.
In the Africa region, guests encounter exhibits beginning with Cheetah Country, Greater Kudu, European White storks, African antelopes, East African Crowned cranes and ostriches. In the adjoining African Plains Yard, visitors will see Baringo giraffes. Of particular interest is the elevated viewing platform and during the warmer months guests are invited to feed the giraffes.
Once done touring the African exhibits, guests can enjoy the Diversity of Life exhibit. The exhibit is an enclosed remodeled animal nursery that features American alligators, meerkats, Burmese pythons and Aldabra tortoises. Opened in April 2001, the exhibit has expanded to include a Bald Eagle Aviary, and three habitat environments simulated in exhibits called; "Deserts and Dry Places'', "Under the Canopy: Rainforest'', and "Ozark Caves, Glades and Streams''.
The Dickerson Park Zoo is opened April through September from 9 am until 5 pm, and October through March from 10 am until 4 pm. The park is closed on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, and guests may stay in the park for an extra hour after the gates close.