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Who runs the Memphis Zoo?

The Memphis Zoo is a beloved institution in Memphis, Tennessee that is home to over 3,500 animals representing over 500 different species. As one of the foremost zoos in the United States, the Memphis Zoo requires dedicated leadership and management to maintain its high standards of animal care and guest experience. So who exactly is responsible for running this world-class zoo?

The Memphis Zoo is Operated by the Memphis Zoological Society

The Memphis Zoo is owned by the City of Memphis, but it is operated by a private non-profit organization called the Memphis Zoological Society. The Memphis Zoological Society was established in 1970 to assume management of the zoo from the city. This public-private partnership allowed the zoo to be run in a more efficient and sustainable manner than was possible under full city management.

As a non-profit organization, the Memphis Zoological Society is governed by a Board of Directors made up of community leaders and supporters of the Memphis Zoo. The Board is responsible for guiding the overall strategy and vision of the zoo. They oversee key decisions about the zoo’s budget, strategic planning, major policies, Executive leadership, and more. The Board hires the President/CEO to manage the day-to-day operations of the zoo.

Zoo Leadership

The Memphis Zoo has a strong leadership team in place to manage all aspects of operations and ensure the zoo provides excellent animal care and a world-class guest experience. Key leaders at the Memphis Zoo include:

  • President/CEO – Responsible for overseeing all zoo operations and implementing the strategic vision set by the Board of Directors. The President/CEO manages senior leadership team and makes major decisions impacting the zoo.
  • Deputy Director – Assists the President/CEO and oversees various departments including education, guest services, marketing, and more.
  • Vice President of Animal Programs – Oversees animal departments including animal management, veterinary services, conservation/research, and commissary.
  • Vice President of Finance – Manages all financial operations including budgeting, accounting, investments, risk management, and long-term financial planning.
  • Vice President of Operations – Oversees facilities management, security, maintenance, landscaping, construction, and sustainability initiatives.

This experienced executive leadership team provides the Memphis Zoo with the high-level oversight needed to maintain exemplary standards of animal care, guest experience, finances, facilities, personnel, conservation, and education.

Animal Management

Caring for the thousands of animals at the Memphis Zoo requires extensive animal management expertise. The zoo has animal managers, veterinarians, nutritionists, and trained keepers responsible for the daily care of each species exhibited.

Key animal management roles include:

  • General Curators – Oversees all animal care operations for an area of the zoo. There are curators assigned to zones like Northwest Passage, Teton Trek, Primates, Herpetarium, and more.
  • Keepers – Provide daily feeding, cleaning, enrichment, and medical care for animals in their assigned area. There are keepers who specialize in certain types of animals like mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.
  • Veterinarians – Responsible for providing comprehensive medical care to maintain the health and wellbeing of all zoo animals. The veterinary team performs exams, diagnostic testing, preventative care, surgeries, and emergency treatment.
  • Nutritionists – Develop and oversee the nutritional plans for each zoo animal. They create diets that meet the nutritional needs of every species and ensure food is prepared and delivered properly.

This specialized animal care staff allows the Memphis Zoo to provide top-tier management of a huge number of species.

Maintenance, Facilities, and Grounds

It takes a big team to maintain the 90 acres of zoo grounds and operate all guest and behind-the-scenes facilities. Facilities management staff oversee the upkeep, maintenance, janitorial services, construction, and repair of all zoo buildings, walkways, displays, and infrastructure. The facilities team works closely with horticulture staff responsible for landscaping, gardening, and managing the hundreds of plant species grown on zoo grounds. The zoo also employs security and guest services teams to manage parking, safety, crowd flow, retail shops, food service, and guest needs.

Education and Conservation

A key part of the Memphis Zoo’s mission is education and conservation. The zoo has a team of education staff who create programs, camps, classes, and experiences focused on wildlife education for guests of all ages. The conservation department oversees the zoo’s field conservation initiatives, research projects, partnerships, and fundraising efforts to protect endangered species worldwide.

Marketing and Fundraising

It takes significant resources to fund all the programs and initiatives of the Memphis Zoo. To support fundraising, the zoo employs marketing and development teams. Marketing promotes the zoo’s exhibits, events, and more while development focuses on fundraising campaigns, grants, corporate sponsors, individual donors, and memberships.


Volunteers play a crucial role in supporting Memphis Zoo operations through the Zoo’s docent program. After completing training, volunteer docent guides provide education to guests during zoo visits. Docents help interpret exhibits, share information about species, and deliver programs like giraffe feedings. The zoo also relies on volunteers for special events, administrative work, and seasonal activities.


The Memphis Zoo partners with numerous local organizations and corporations to enhance the guest experience, support operations, and fund exhibits. Key partners include Youth Villages, Memphis Tourism, Methodist Healthcare, FedEx, International Paper, AutoZone, and more. These collaborations allow the zoo to engage the community, provide discounts & deals, fund conservation, reach underserved students, and build new exhibits.


The Memphis Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which sets rigorous standards for animal management and welfare, guest services, safety, education, conservation, finances, staff training, and facilities. Less than 10% of US zoos and aquariums achieve AZA accreditation, demonstrating the Memphis Zoo’s commitment to excellence.

Awards & Recognition

The Memphis Zoo is consistently recognized as one of the top zoos in the country thanks to its world-class animal exhibits, engaging education programs, beautiful grounds, and family friendly environment. Some recent awards and rankings include:

  • Voted #1 Zoo in the Country by TripAdvisor (2021)
  • Voted #1 Zoo in Tennessee by USA Today’s Reader’s Choice (2020)
  • Voted Top 5 Zoo in America for Kids by Parents Magazine (2019)
  • Voted Top 10 Zoo Exhibit in the U.S. for Zambezi River Hippo Camp by USA Today (2018)
  • Voted Best Zoo Lights Exhibit by USA Today (2017)

The Memphis Zoo continues to maintain its reputation as a must-visit attraction through dedicated leadership, world-class facilities, and unwavering commitment to animal care and guest experience.

Financial Management & Budget

As a non-profit organization, prudent financial management is vital for the Memphis Zoo. The zoo has an annual operating budget of over $20 million covering expenses like staff salaries, animal food, facilities, maintenance, utilities, supplies, and more. Revenue comes from a mix of tax support, admissions, concessions, memberships, donations, grants, endowments, and event rentals.

Revenue Sources Percentage of Total
Admissions 32%
Concessions & Merchandise 11%
City Tax Support 10%
Donations 18%
Memberships 12%
Grants & Sponsorships 7%
Event Rentals 3%
Investment Income 2%
Other 5%

Careful financial planning, fundraising, and revenue management allows the Memphis Zoo to operate on a balanced budget. The zoo’s financial standing is closely monitored by the Board of Directors and executive team to maintain long-term sustainability.

Recent Investments

To uphold its high standards, the Memphis Zoo is continually investing in improvements and expansions. Some recent major investments include:

  • Zambezi River Hippo Camp – New $14 million exhibit featuring hippos, Nile crocodiles, and 15 other species native to the Zambezi River Valley in Africa. Opened in 2018.
  • Teton Trek – Opened in 2015, this $16 million exhibit allows guests to view grizzly bears, wolves, and raptors in recreated habitats inspired by Grand Teton National Park.
  • Chickasaw Bluffs – This $3 million overhaul opened in 2021 with redesigned habitats for species like bobcats, opossums, owls, snakes, and bald eagles.
  • Veterinary Hospital – A new $6 million veterinary hospital opened in 2020, equipped with sterile surgical suites, treatment rooms, diagnostic imaging, and pathology labs.
  • Panda Exhibit – The Memphis Zoo spent $13 million to construct a new habitat for giant pandas in 2003 to house the first panda pair ever exhibited outside of China.

Ongoing investments like these allow the Memphis Zoo to continuously improve and upgrade its exhibits, facilities, and animal habitats.

Memphis Zoo Strategic Plan

In 2018, the Memphis Zoo completed a detailed strategic plan to guide zoo priorities through 2025. The plan focuses on key goals including:

  • Ensuring animal care and welfare continues to exceed AZA accreditation standards
  • Improving educational messaging and conservation initiatives
  • Increasing accessibility and inclusion for guests and employees
  • Engaging diverse and underserved audiences
  • Investing in updated exhibits and infrastructure
  • Growing earned revenue streams and fundraising
  • Cultivating emerging leaders and building personnel capacity
  • Forging new community partnerships

This strategic plan helps zoo leadership align all departments around shared vision and priorities for the future. The plan is reviewed annually and updated to keep the zoo on track meeting its ambitious goals.

Recent Conservation Efforts

The Memphis Zoo takes an active role in conservation initiatives around the globe. Some highlights of their recent efforts include:

  • Sumatran Tiger Conservation – The zoo provides funding and personnel support for anti-poaching patrols and habitat protection in Indonesia’s Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger.
  • Grevy’s Zebra Breeding – The zoo’s breeding program for endangered Grevy’s zebras has successfully bred over 70 foals since 1979, 10% of the species’ entire population.
  • Hellbender Salamander Breeding – Through captive breeding and release, the zoo is working to reintroduce endangered Ozark and Eastern hellbender salamanders to Missouri and New York waterways.
  • Plastic Waste Reduction – The zoo minimizes plastic waste by not offering plastic bags, straws or lids. Reusable bottles with free refill stations are provided to cut single-use plastics.
  • Recycling – An extensive recycling program diverts over 100 tons of material from landfills annually including glass, paper, cans, cardboard, composting, electronics, lightbulbs and construction waste.

From endangered species breeding to habitat conservation to local sustainability, the Memphis Zoo actively supports impactful conservation initiatives in their backyard and around the world.

Memphis Zoo by the Numbers

Some key facts and figures about the Memphis Zoo:

  • Welcomes over 1 million guests annually
  • Home to over 3,500 animals of over 500 different species
  • Houses over 290 species recognized by the IUCN Red List as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered
  • Cares for 22 species that are extinct in the wild like the Wyoming toad and Scimitar-horned oryx
  • Features 70 acres of display exhibits and 90 total acres of grounds
  • Supported by over 1,100 volunteers who donate 82,000 service hours annually
  • Part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a network of only 240 accredited facilities
  • tracing its history back to 1906, it is one of the longest continually operating zoos in the nation

These impressive statistics demonstrate the Memphis Zoo’s large scale as one of the foremost zoological institutions in the United States.

Future Expansion Plans

Even after over a century of operations, the Memphis Zoo continues to grow and evolve. Some upcoming expansion projects in development include:

  • Asian Passage – Slated to open in 2024, this new $40 million, 2-acre exhibit will feature Komodo dragons and other species from Southeast Asia.
  • Rhino Habitat – The zoo plans to build an enlarged habitat for their crash of threatened Southern white rhinos.
  • Ocelot Habitat – New fenced habitat planned for ocelots, small spotted wild cats from South America.
  • Veterinary Hospital Expansion – An additional 2,800 square feet will expand quarantine space and add new treatment capabilities.
  • Discovery Center – Hands-on indoor educational space where guests can get up close with small animals and specimens.

Exciting enhancements like these demonstrate the Memphis Zoo’s ongoing commitment to improvement as it continues working towards its vision as one of the top five zoos in the nation.

Community Involvement and Accessibility

As a community organization, the Memphis Zoo makes concerted efforts to increase accessibility, serve vulnerable populations, and engage with partners. Some initiatives include:

  • Free or reduced admission days/programs serving at-risk youth, low-income families, and seniors.
  • ZooToYou outreach bringing animals and education to schools and facilities across the Mid-South.
  • ASL interpreted shows and sensory friendly events for guests with disabilities.
  • Braille maps and interpretive devices for vision impaired visitors.
  • Special education and therapy programs tailored to children with autism, developmental delays, and other needs.
  • ZooCamp scholarships removing barriers for 1000+ underserved Memphis youth.

By proactively serving vulnerable and under-resourced populations, the zoo strives to fulfill its mission of educating and inspiring all members of the community.


The Memphis Zoo requires extensive leadership, personnel, partnerships, and resources to operate a facility of its size and scope. Thanks to a clear strategic vision, commitment to excellence, and focus on community, the Memphis Zoological Society has built one of the top zoos in America. The zoo’s continued growth and enhancement promises ever greater things ahead as the Memphis Zoo serves as a national example of what a world-class zoological institution can be.