The first city money was spent for the care of animals in Miller Park in 1891. Although there was at least one deer, there is no definite list of the animals that the first payment supported.
The zoo was started when a circus lion cub ended up on a farmer's farm around 1900, and was eventually given to the city of Bloomington. The lion, later named "Big Jim" died on March 26, 1912. After Big Jim's death, funds were raised to construct the Koetthoefer Animal Building by Bloomington architect A. L. Pillsbury. Ground was broken in 1913, and the building was opened to the public in 1914.
The first real expansion of the zoo was in 1960 with the construction of the Woodland Wing, which at one time housed two sea lions. In the mid-1970s, the Woodland Wing became the Tropical Rainforest Exhibit, the Animal Building was updated, and the sea lion/otter pools were built.
The Entrance Building/Education Center was opened in 1992, the wolf exhibit in 1993, Wallaby Walkabout in 1994, the bald eagle exhibit in 1995, Animals of Asia in 1996, Zoolab in 1999, the Children's Zoo Complex in 2001, and the Tropical Rainforest Exhibit in 2004. These additions more than doubled the size of the zoo.
Over the years, the zoo has seen a very wide variety of animals. There have been chimps, lions, a polar bear, moose, mountain lions, black bears, penguins, an elephant, bison, gray wolves, alligators, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, bats, foxes, North American porcupine, raccoons, and many other species.
Singing dogs - New Guinea singing dog
Wolf exhibit - red wolf
River otters - river otters (feedings at 10:30 am and 3:00 pm)
The Junior Zoo Keeper program began in 1972, and at first was open to students starting in the second grade. Currently the Junior Zookeeper Program provides junior and senior high school students an opportunity to learn about animals and the ways that zoos work. The program starts with classroom training, and students can eventually become volunteers at the zoo. For advanced Junior Zookeepers there are educational activities from October through April, and the students then volunteer over the summer. Students can start in the program once they enter fifth grade, and can continue in the program through the summer after they graduate from high school.
There are currently plans to make major renovations on the Animal Building to bring it up to date, and also to redesign the ZooLab in order to create a new guest experience.