How to Build a Zoo

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Building a zoo takes more than just creating enclosures and treating wild animals as high-maintenance pets. According to the San Diego Zoo, building a zoo from scratch is a difficult and costly process. It can be hard to find open land, it may prove difficult to acquire animals and a zoo can cost up to $150 million per year to operate. When you build a zoo, you need to worry about the safety and well-being of the animal residents, as well as the humans who care for them.

little boy looking at elephant at zoo
little boy looking at elephant at zoo (Image: microgen/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 1

Create a mission statement and a plan. Consider why you want to build a zoo and what you hope to accomplish as a result. In your plan, discuss the types of animals you want and why, as well as the land you intend to purchase.

meeting about zoo
meeting about zoo (Image: Bartłomiej Szewczyk/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 2

Research the animals you want in the zoo. Learn about the natural habitats of all these creatures, the types of foods they eat and the best way to feed the animals. Research each animal’s behaviors and physical abilities. Consider how high an animal can jump, how strong it is, its physical activity level and other factors. This information can help you estimate how much it would cost to build an exhibit for each type of animal. The San Diego Zoo recommends keeping the local climate, weather and geographical features in mind when you build the enclosures, making sure they can withstand severe weather and natural disaster.

woman researching on computer
woman researching on computer (Image: Jacob Wackerhausen/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 3

Purchase land. Zoos require several acres. The enclosures and guest pathways are not the only parts of the zoo that take up land. You will also need space for in-house veterinary clinics, administrative offices, enclosures for any animals that are out of the public’s view, garages for the ground’s vehicles, parking and storage for maintenance equipment.

large grass field
large grass field (Image: plusphoto/a.collectionRF/amana images/Getty Images)

Step 4

Acquire licenses, permits and accreditation. Most states have regulations about what kind of animals its residents can have. It is often against the law to own wild or exotic animals without special permits. Zoo animal permits and requirements differ from state to state. According to Born Free USA, licenses required to build a zoo include business licenses, veterinary licenses, health department licenses, and/or a license from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In addition, seek accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

filling out paperwork
filling out paperwork (Image: Pixsooz/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 5

Hire animal curators, engineers, architects, horticultural experts and landscape experts for the construction process. These professionals need to work together to create an environment that is as natural as possible in the enclosed habitats. Items to consider when building habitats include plumbing, electricity, locking doors and/or gates, safe viewing areas for the public, animal feeding areas, areas for veterinarians to care for animals of all sizes and places to quarantine animals if they are sick or dangerous. Build walkways for visitors to get to each exhibit and add gift shops, restrooms, dining areas, rest areas and educational centers.

lion in zoo cage
lion in zoo cage (Image: Katie Krebs/iStock/Getty Images)

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