Having been inhabited since the end of the Ice Age, Indiana has quite an interesting history. Believe it or not, Indiana was not only among the first states to mobilize troops for the Civil War, but it is also the site of the first train robbery in the U.S. in 1866. Indiana is also home to a handful of popular personalities, such as president Abraham Lincoln (who moved to Indiana when he was seven), actor James Dean, TV show host David Letterman, and even Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC. The state is also rich in minerals and had, in the past, more than 100 species of trees before the arrival of the pioneers.
While it might not have a lot of forests today, there are a number of zoos in Indiana dedicated to animal care and conservation. If you’re visiting “The Hoosier State,” drop by some of the best zoos in Indiana for a fun time with family and friends.
Cities in Indiana With Zoos
Black Pine Animal Sanctuary
Nestled on 18 acres of land, Black Pine Animal Sanctuary (BPAS) in Albion is home to over 100 exotic and wild animals, including birds and reptiles. The sanctuary began as a modest farm in the 1980s when Karen Hoag and her husband adopted a llama from a neighbor who could no longer care for it. Over the years, the couple’s farm gained a reputation in the community for being the place to surrender wild and exotic animals. They’ve become especially helpful for owners who lack the resources or space to provide their animals with adequate care.
In 2001, the Professional Animal Retirement Center was renamed Black Pine Animal Sanctuary. It became a non-profit that is currently home to 60 species of animals, birds, and reptiles. It is also among the few multi-species sanctuaries in the Midwest.
When visiting BPAS, guests can witness over half a mile of paved trails that go through a wooded area. The trails offer guests the chance to visit various habitats for foxes, wolves, bobcats, tigers, bears, and leopards. BPAS also has three climate-controlled buildings, namely the Avian Building, Primate House, and the Reptile House. Aside from the habitats, visitors can also enjoy seasonal special events, a pavilion with picnic tables, and free parking.
Columbian Park Zoo
Established over 150 years ago in the 1870s, Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette used to be known as Reservoir Park and Glick Lake. It was later renamed Columbian Park in 1892. The zoo itself was founded in 1908, with its original collection of animals composed of foxes, pelicans, skunks, lynx, deer, wolves, and prairie dogs. By 1928, what is now known as the Historic Animal House was constructed, with one of its earliest occupants being a circus elephant from Peru, Indiana named Linco.
Over the years, Columbian Park Zoo underwent significant growth, with many more animals and exhibits added. From the 1930s to the 1950s, more animals found a home in the zoo, including lions, elk, monkeys, zebras, bears, and nine alligators. Additional exhibits included the free-flight aviary, prairie dog town, and exhibits for large cats, birds of prey, and lemurs. By 2007, more exhibits had been added to the existing ones, which still stand today. Some of these are the Butterfly Exhibit, Wallaby Walkout, Galapagos Tortoise Exhibit, Owl Exhibit, and the North American River Otter Exhibit. Touring through the zoo, you can also enjoy a few bronze sculptures of animals, like the giant tortoise sculpture and the otter sculpture.
Fort Wayne Zoos
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Reopening on April 30 for the 2022 season, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Fort Wayne is a world-renowned zoo that began as a modest nature preserve. It was opened to the public on July 3, 1965, with an attendance of as many as 6,000 guests on its first day. Back then, it only had five and a half acres and 18 exhibits alongside rides and other concessions. Thirty years later, in the early 1990s, the zoo gained national prominence and accolades, having been mentioned in magazines and TV shows, such as the New York Times and Cosmopolitan, as well as ABC’s Good Morning America. By the late 1990s, the zoo already had 38 acres, 1,500 animals, and around 145 staff members.
Today, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo offers a variety of animal experiences and rides, with tokens costing $1 each. Some of the animal experiences you can enjoy here are the Stingray Feeding, Giraffe Feeding, and Goat Food. You can also purchase an Animal Feeding Pass worth 15 tokens.
Rides, on the other hand, include the Z.O.&O. Railroad 3, the Endangered Species Carousel, Sky Safari Ride, and Crocodile Creek Adventure. Each ride costs three tokens. A Ride Pass is also available, which is worth 12 tokens for $25.
Washington Park Children’s Zoo
Originally called the Washington Park Children’s Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo in Indianapolis first began as the idea of newspaper columnist Lowell Nussbaum. In the 1940s, Nussbaum campaigned for a zoo through his columns in the Indianapolis Times and Indianapolis Star. Even though development for the zoo slowed because of the Second World War, it was eventually opened on April 18, 1964, and welcomed as many as 270,000 visitors in that year alone.
In the 1980s, the zoo was moved to its current location in White River State Park and was renamed the Indianapolis Zoo. It is currently divided into five areas, namely Oceans, Deserts, Plains, Forests, and Flights of Fancy. Each of these areas feature a variety of different species. Alongside these five areas are other major exhibits, which include the award-winning Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, where 12 orangutans reside.
By 2006, the White River Gardens, which was opened to the public in 1999, was included as part of Indianapolis Zoo’s attractions. The garden features over 16,000 native and exotic plants, as well as 1.5 miles of winding paths and walkways, outdoor design gardens, a water garden, a wedding garden, and artistic fountains and features. It also has an indoor/outdoor dining facility that gives guests a panoramic view of the downtown riverfront and skyline.
Other places you can visit in the zoo include the DeHaan Tiergarten, the Hilbert Conservatory, and the Family Nature Center.
Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden
With over 45 acres of rolling hills and hundreds of animals from across the globe, you will never run out of things to explore at Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden in Evansville. As an accredited zoo and botanic garden, guests are treated to a variety of exotic wildlife and botanic species that you might not regularly see in other places. It currently has 11 exhibits, with most of the zoological ones arranged and grouped depending on the featured geographic location or theme. These zoological exhibits include Amazonia, Lake Victoria, Asia, the African Panorama, and North America.
Other exhibits and areas you can enjoy are the Discovery Center, which is a multipurpose facility designed to provide guests with educational and hands-on experiences. There is also the Kley Memorial Building, which had been transformed into a home for the zoo’s Komodo Dragon and other nocturnal species. The memorial building also has a 4,000-square-foot exhibit hall where traveling exhibits and special events are hosted. Of course, there is also the Botanic Garden exhibit, which lets guests stroll through beautiful pathways leading to different garden areas, such as the jungle garden and the rain garden.
The Children’s Enchanted Forest, on the other hand, lets kids encounter the zoo’s more playful species through a variety of interactive activities. Also present is The Kinney Family Penguins of Patagonia exhibit, where visitors can meet over a dozen Humboldt Penguins, which are native to parts of Chilé and Peru.
South Bend Zoos
As South Bend’s first zoo and one of the oldest in Indiana, Potawatomi Zoo used to be just a modest duck pond at Leeper Park in 1902. By 1921, Potawatomi Zoo was established and has since resided in Potawatomi Park. Today, after over a hundred years, the zoo has grown to cover 23 acres and houses more than 400 animals. Since 2010, its attendance has also grown from 185,000 to 207,384 in 2018, making Potawatomi Zoo one of the most visited attractions in the South Bend area.
At Potawatomi Zoo, guests are treated to a number of animal encounters. You can also enjoy a host of other activities such as zoo camps, educational programs, outreach programs, field trip programs, and special events. Animal encounters you can enjoy include the Bison Encounter, Otter Encounter, Rhino Encounter, and the Sloth Encounter. Each of these last around 20 to 30 minutes. You can also participate in various special events over the next few months, namely the Eat and Drink at the Zoo, Brew at the Zoo, and Zoo Boo 2022, among others. To date, the zoo’s volunteers have presented 128 onsite exhibits to over 44,000 visitors.
Michigan City Zoos
Washington Park Zoo
In 1925, a retired animal trainer moved Jake, his pet brown bear, to the Washington Park lakefront. He thought it would be nice to give Jake some public exposure. From there, the response was overwhelmingly positive as many people visited Jake and even provided other animals so he could have company. By 1927, plans for building a zoological garden were raised and, in the following year, the first official Zoo Board was appointed. Washington Park Zoo was then moved to its current location in Michigan City.
Washington Park Zoo has undergone significant growth since those early years. Today, it’s home to over 200 animals representing 90 different species. In 2015, the zoo opened many of its current exhibits, which include the Discovery Building, Peacock Cafe, Pollinator Gardens, Animal Care Clinic, Coop Concession, Wolf Outlook, Koi Pool, Australian Walkabout Exhibit, and the Fallow Deer Woods. In the following year, the zoo was first accredited by the Zoological Association of America.
You can catch Washington Park Zoo open from April to the end of October for each season. The zoo enjoys an average of 100,000 guests every year and offers different programs and special events. Since the zoo prioritizes the animals’ health and care, you will find most of the exhibits open, though some animals might not be available to interact with the public.
Battle Ground Zoos
Established in 1972, Wolf Park in Battle Ground is a facility that focuses on the education, conservation, and research of wolves and other wild canids. The park began with a pair of wolf siblings given to ethology professor Erich Klinghammer. Since then, the park has received wolves from several other zoos and made huge improvements to the facility.
In 2019, the park hosted its first Walk for Wolves event, which became an annual fundraiser. The park now has more than 27 acres of land, which is home not only to wolves, but also coyotes, bison, red foxes, and gray foxes. Most of the animals featured in the park were born in the facility itself or others like it. As ambassadors for their wild-born cousins, the animals at Wolf Park are not candidates for release into the wild. Guests can encounter them in large, semi-natural enclosures and pastures, so you don’t have to worry about the wolves running loose.
Wolf Park offers a variety of tours and programs that you can enjoy while visiting. General programs include the Follow the Pack Tour, Howl Night, Private Tour, and the History of Wolf Park with Pat Goodmann. Specialty programs, on the other hand, consist of the Photography Specialty Tour, Feeding Specialty Tour, and Bison Specialty Tour.
Zoos in Indiana Recap
There are more than a handful of zoos in Indiana that you can visit if you’re planning a trip to the state. Each zoo features different programs and exhibits that showcase the numerous wildlife in the facility. Many of these exhibits and educational programs provide visitors with close encounters, which will surely be a treat, especially if you’re bringing kids along.
Some zoos and parks may be seasonal, such as the Washington Park Zoo and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, so check out their opening dates to catch their exhibits and tours. Others are mostly open all year round, but it pays to also check out their websites and reserve tickets in advance.
Looking to explore Indiana? Here are some other great things to do in the state: