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Connecting For Life: The Campaign For Zoo Miami

Our Work and Passion

Zoo Miami is truly unique.

Not only are we the largest zoological garden in Florida but we also are the only sub-tropical zoo in the continental United States. South Florida’s climate allows us to house animals from the Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa, resulting in a broad diversity of species unlike that of any other zoo in the country. We group our more than 3,000 animals according to their geographic territories, allowing species that coexist peacefully in the wild to live together here at the zoo. Even our trees, foliage and soil closely match the native habitats of our animals. Guests enjoy close-up views of breathtaking wildlife in tropical, open-air exhibits replicating what exists in nature.

As with most zoos, however, we are not merely a living museum. Zoo Miami remains an active leader in numerous global wildlife and environmental conservation initiatives. Among our animal population, more than 130 species are at risk in the wild, with many classified as critically endangered. We participate in roughly 30 conservation efforts annually across five continents.

Florida Panther The Zoo’s mission is to “share the wonder of wildlife and help conserve it for generations to come.” At our core, we are an educational institution. When guests visit our “Amazon and Beyond” exhibit, we hope they learn about our work with harpy eagles in Central America. When they explore “Florida: Mission Everglades,” they should gain an appreciation for animals in their own backyard, such as the Florida panthers, and connect with our crusade to save these threatened wetlands.

As you can imagine, this work requires incredible resources. We must continually upgrade our health facilities and keep pace with emerging medical technologies to provide the best care for our animals. As we learn more about natural habitats, our exhibits must improve accordingly. Conservation efforts locally and globally are increasingly costly. Expanding our reach to people through the Foundation’s educational programs—here at the Zoo and in local classrooms—is imperative but significantly strains our budgets.

While public funding is critical to our day-to-day operations, private philanthropy fuels our efforts to join the elite ranks of the world’s finest zoos. You can help us achieve this worthy and attainable goal.

Envisioning the Future

Four years ago, Zoo Miami revisited the master plan that was produced in 2002 and subsequently introduced “Vision 2025,” a blueprint envisioning a 20-year horizon. We recognize that the Zoo must continue to improve and develop, replacing outdated facilities and keeping pace with public expectations and the ever-changing science behind animal care.

Our vision touches every aspect of the Zoo—exhibits, animal care facilities, special attractions for children, conservation, educational components, transportation and access, and retail and food establishments. For the immediate future, we are focused on a vitally importantyet modest and achievableset of initiatives, which we intend to accomplish through philanthropic support of Zoo Miami Foundation from our many friends. These initiatives include the following:

  • Build a new veterinary hospital to expand capacity in order to maintain the highest quality care for Zoo Miami’s animals.
  • Create a Conservation Action Center, an interactive educational exhibit that highlights the importance of conservation in an ever-changing world.
  • Renovate our Sumatran Tiger exhibit to provide nose-to-nose interaction with this fascinating and critically endangered animal.
  • Invest in our conservation efforts, in part by augmenting the successful endowment created and stewarded by Ron Magill.
  • Expand our educational outreach programs to introduce the wonder of the animal kingdom to young people.

The total investment to achieve these objectives is $17.3 million. Thanks to funding from Miami-Dade County, the State of Florida, and private philanthropy, we have already secured $7.3 million toward these projects: $6.1 million for the veterinary hospital, half of what is required, and $1.2 million to construct the Conservation Action Center.

Zoo Miami Foundation now embarks on a campaign to raise the remaining $10 million. No additional public support is available for these priorities; all of the funds must come from private philanthropic sources.

Total Project Investment............................................................................... $17.3 million

Public and Private Funds Raised to Date...................................................... $7.3 million

Outstanding Need............................................................................................. $10 million

Achieving our goals will result from a strong public/private partnership. While initial public funding and early philanthropic support have provided early momentum, additional funds from government sources may be needed and we urgently need to raise complementary private funds from individuals, corporations, foundations, and organizations that cherish our Zoo and care deeply about its future. We are confident that you, our donor community, will rise to the challenge presented in this campaign.


Connecting for Life: The Campaign for Zoo Miami

The objectives Zoo Miami Foundation has identified for the Connecting for Life campaign combine to address the Zoo’s most pressing needs and to elevate us beyond our current standards of excellence. In short, we aim to build a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital, create a dynamic nose-to-nose tiger exhibit, enhance our conservation efforts and expand our educational outreach programs.

I.     Building a World-Class Veterinary Hospital................................................... $6 million

Zoo Miami’s veterinary hospital is the nerve center for the Zoo. Our team manages preventative and urgent care for more than 3,000 animals from 500 species, with many listed as threatened, endangered or critically endangered. The facility also serves as a triage point for injured animals and as a safe haven for particularly vulnerable species during severe storms and hurricanes.  

Built in 1986, our hospital shows its age. Since the hospital opened, the number of animals under our care has more than tripled and with that growth, the number of staff has grown commensurately.  While we have been able to upgrade much needed equipment over the years, often these new pieces require modifications because our facility cannot properly accommodate them.

Put simply, our veterinary facility does not conform to modern health standards set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the prestigious national accrediting body of which we are a proud member. We know we need to expand our capacity, update equipment and technology, and create a hospital that match the quality of care that the outstanding veterinary professionals we are fortunate to have on staff provide for the animals.

Veterinarians Working On Sedated Gorilla Renovating and expanding the existing facility will enable our animal health team to provide the best possible care in an environment that meets the needs of our precious animals. In addition, our new hospital, totaling roughly 21,000 square feet, will accommodate the following activities:




  • Elevate the Zoo’s prominence with cutting-edge technology and resources, enhanced educational opportunities and partnership with leading conservation organizations.
  • Research into the control of invasive reptile and amphibian species.
  • Animal wellness checks and monitoring of wildlife health to identify public health risks.
  • Training opportunities for veterinary technician students, biologists and researchers. 
  • Tours to provide the public behind-the-scenes views of animal care procedures and programs.
  • Partnership with state and federal wildlife partners who protect endangered species such as sea turtles, the Florida bonneted bat, American crocodile and Florida panther.

Our veterinary hospital project will consist of three phases. The first phase will involve renovating and expanding treatment and surgical areas and creating a new research laboratory. The increased treatment space will include an isolation area, dedicated ICU, and interior garage loading and unloading zone to maximize safety while moving dangerous animals such as large cats and bears.

In the second phase, we will add expanded and specialized indoor and outdoor holding areas for animals, including an outdoor paddock, hoofstock holding, and a special ward for animals recovering from surgery and illness.  

Finally, in phase three, we will create new support spaces with workstations for outside researchers, visiting specialists, and vet technician students. This phase also adds conference facility space for teaching and training, along with a dedicated records room.

Thanks to county and state funding, we have secured just over $6 million—roughly half of the $12 million project cost—for the new hospital. Our Connecting for Life campaign seeks to raise the remaining $6 million through private funding to complete the project. This effort will be aided by a generous challenge grant from our longstanding partner, The Batchelor Foundation, to provide funding for critically needed hospital equipment.

II.     Creating a Nose-to-Nose Tiger Exhibit....................................... $1.5 million

At its most essential level, the Zoo cultivates a bond between visitors and animals. Zoo Miami has always prided itself on the quality of our exhibits and our ability to bring people closer to the animal kingdom. We must continue to set new standards for animal care and the visitor experience.

One of the first exhibits visitors encounter when they begin their tour of the Zoo is the magnificent Sumatran Tiger. Found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, these small tigers are instantly recognizable by the “beard” around their faces and their dense stripe pattern. Experts estimate that only 300-400 Sumatran Tigers are left in the wild, and we are indeed fortunate to have two of these remarkable animals in our care: Berani, a male, and Leeloo, a female.

A key objective of our Connecting for Life campaign is to create the world’s finest Sumatran Tiger exhibit. Our plans will double the space of our existing exhibit, introduce an Asian-themed gateway and viewing pavilion, and provide for future expansion, including additional outdoor exercise yards. Once guests cross a moat and enter the pavilion, they will have a unique opportunity to get nose-to-nose with the tigers, pressing hands against paws with only a layer of glass separation. Visitors also will see zookeepers training, feeding and caring for the tigers and learn about the tigers’ peculiarities from our own experts.                                                             

When the new exhibit is complete, our tigers will have more space to roam and explore a world more closely resembling their natural habitat. They will have the freedom to be outside 24 hours a day, which reflects the Zoo’s core philosophy that animal welfare comes first. Giving our animals choices improves their physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing.

III.     Redoubling Our Conservation Efforts............................................. $1 million

“Zoos play a critical role in providing windows into our world that will hopefully inspire others to care and protect these amazing animals in the wild. It would be tremendously sad if the zoo were the last place we could see them.”

Ron Magill
Director of Communications
Zoo Miami

Caring for the animals we house is just part of the Zoo’s mission. Conservation, as Ron Magill puts it, is what gives zoos credibility. Beyond Zoo Miami’s borders, our experts are working to protect wildlife, saving species on the brink of extinction and ensuring others never reach such a precarious state.

Our local and global conservation programs conducted through Zoo Miami Foundation focus on the many issues facing wildlife today—habitat loss, conflict with humans, over-harvesting, illegal hunting, and disease. Within Florida, we are helping to save bonneted bats and imperiled butterflies, flamingos, gopher tortoises, and Florida panthers, as well as tropical amphibians being decimated by fungal diseases. Internationally, we are caring for harpy eagles and three-toed sloths in Panama, cheetahs in South Africa, and various species living in the rain forests of Costa Rica.

At the same time, we are working locally to control invasive species such as Burmese pythons, boa constrictors and pegus lizards. Florida has more invasive reptile and amphibian species than anywhere else in the world, resulting in considerable environmental cost and ecosystem damage to the Everglades and other precious wetlands.

 Ron Magill observes a harpy eagle chick in the Panama rainforestRecently we secured funding for our new Conservation Action Center, an interactive exhibit designed to provide insights into the Zoo’s conservation efforts and to educate people about environmental concerns and sustainability. Guests will discover what they have in common with polar bears and crawl through a larger-than-life python while learning about invasive species. They will see how beach erosion and rising sea levels affect everyone here in South Florida. They will scoop “ZooDoo” into compost bins and clobber environmental threats in the Habitat Whack-A-Mole. And they will explore the I-spy house and realize how things we do every day in our own homes can impact the ecosystem around us. Overall, the Center will illustrate connections between humans and animals, reminding us of the habitats we share and the ways conservation issues affect us all.

The new Center is another powerful example of the public-private partnership driving philanthropy at Zoo Miami Foundation in support of Zoo Miami. We have raised $1.2 million from the State of Florida and individual donors that will contribute to the project’s completion in 2020.

As part of the Connecting for Life campaign, Zoo Miami Foundation seeks an additional $1 million to expand our conservation efforts. Some of those funds will underwrite current activities, while others may choose to contribute to the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment. As everyone affiliated with the Zoo knows, Ron has been with us for 40 years and is very much the face—nationally and internationally—of Zoo Miami. He is an engaging and articulate ambassador for the Zoo and a champion of wildlife and conservation causes worldwide. Several years ago, he created an endowment at the Foundation to sustain his life’s work in perpetuity, and that fund now totals approximately $2 million.

Gifts for conservation—to augment the Magill endowment or to provide current-use funding—will enable us to expand efforts into new regions, work with more species, extend our existing projects, better educate the public about the importance of conservation, and support other individuals and organizations that share in our mission and passion for this critical endeavor.

IV.     Expanding Educational Outreach................................................ $1.5 million

We take great pride in being a leading provider of informal science education for students in South Florida. Our Foundation-run programs capture imaginations, encourage scientific exploration and help remove barriers to science learning. We act as an engine of workforce development and economic growth by inspiring young people to pursue careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Through our various programs, we reach thousands of students and teachers, developing a new generation of scientists and educators similarly dedicated to our cause.

An aspiring Zoologist with Amanda, one of Zoo Miami’s armadillo ambassador animalsEach year Zoo Miami Foundation offers a number of educational programs on our campus, online, and in classrooms throughout Miami-Dade County. “Zoocademy,” featuring Ron Magill, teaches students about animal care and nutrition and provides in-depth information about animals such as elephants, tortoises, giraffes and koalas. Our award-winning camps combine education with entertainment, letting kids enjoy group activities while learning about wildlife and environmental conservation. And our “Zoo to You” programs bring the Zoo to classrooms for close-up encounters.

Given the increasing demand, Zoo Miami Foundation’s education programs are poised to grow, but budgets are already stretched thin. Expanding our offerings requires additional funds to transport students to the Zoo; to design, evaluate and update curricula; to provide classroom toolkits; to maintain an interactive online resource library with lesson plans and multimedia assets; and to fully staff our programs with inspiring lecturers and teachers.

Currently we serve approximately 13,000 school children each year, most of which come from underserved parts of our community, through our educational programs.  Our goal is to increase that number to 18,000 in the next three years. Additional funding will enable us to reach even more underserved Title I schools throughout our region. Miami-Dade is the fourth-largest school system in nation, and Broward County is the fifth. We touch only a small fraction of this large and incredibly diverse group of students and teachers. At the same time, the diversity of our staff matches that of our schools—collectively we represent 33 countries and speak 13 languages. We are thus uniquely positioned to serve this community so eager to engage with us more.

To accomplish this, the Connecting for Life campaign seeks to raise $1.5 million in funding earmarked for educational outreach. Gifts can be designated for current use or can establish endowments to sustain this activity permanently.

Campaign Summary
  1. Building a World-Class Veterinary Hospital.................................. $6 million
  2. Creating a Nose-to-Nose Tiger Exhibit....................................... $1.5 million
  3. Redoubling Our Conservation Efforts............................................. $1 million
  4. Expanding Educational Outreach................................................ $1.5 million

Total of Campaign Objectives......................................................................... $10,000,000

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