In 1923, Jacob Stoffel helped establish the Racine Zoological Gardens when he donated three monkeys to the Zoo at Island Park. Since then, the Racine Zoological Gardens has grown from a small zoo housing a few monkeys, goats, deer and foxes to 32 acres of wildlife habitats that are home to over 250 individual animals representing about 75 different species. Today, both the Association of Aquariums and Zoos and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums have accredited the Racine Zoo. It is one of only 10 accredited zoos in the United States that offers free admission to members.
The focal point of a visit to the Racine Zoo is the Vanishing Kingdom, a display built between 1936 and 1939 and refurbished in 1994. The enormous structure houses monkeys, orangutans, wild cats and other tropical animals in an indoor display that simulates their natural habitats. Zoo visitors can catch a glimpse of the large cats prowling through forest undergrowth or sunning themselves on rocks, while orangutans swing through the vines and trees overhead.
Other popular displays at the Racine Zoo include the Pheasantry and the Aviary, where visitors to the Racine Zoo can meet local and exotic birds beak to nose. During the summer, admission to the Aviary is free, as is admission to special interactive feeding displays that introduce visitors to the birds on a personal basis.
Children can also enjoy an interactive feeding experience at the Giraffe Feeding Station, where they can interact with the world's tallest animal, including feeding the giraffes by hand. Other attractions include Bear Ridge, which houses the zoo's collection of Andean bears, and Great Cat Canyon, where cougars, lions and tigers lurk around every corner.
A visit to the Racine Zoological Gardens is more than a trip to visit the animals, though. The park includes a family picnic area, a beach and play areas for children. The Bearnstead Discovery Center offers a peek at conservation efforts as well as educational programs about the animals and their environments, and the West Safari Base Camp is available for private parties and events.
In addition to the animal exhibits, the Racine Zoological Gardens hosts a wide variety of community events, including the critically acclaimed Animal Crackers Concert Series at the Kiwanis Memorial Amphitheater and monthly Zoovies, a fun night of movies and activities for teens. The zoo also holds summer camps for area children ages 4 through grade 8, who can enjoy daily activities that include age appropriate craft activities, swimming and exploration of specialty subjects that include "If I Ran the Zoo'' and "Critter Club''.
The Racine Zoological Gardens is open 365 days a year from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Zoo members get free admission. Admission for non-members is nominal, with discounts for senior citizens and special Monday rates for Racine County residents. For more information about admissions, schedules and special events at the Racine Zoological Gardens, contact a zoo staff member at 262-637-9000.