Simplified: The Great Plains Zoo took a big step closer to bringing a new aquarium, education center and butterfly rainforest to its campus thanks to a $25 million gift announced Thursday from billionaire philanthropist T. Denny Sanford.

Why it matters

  • The gift announcement comes in the months after the zoo released a master plan to rethink the entire campus, as well as bring a new indoor aquarium as part of a recent merger with the Butterfly House and Aquarium.
  • The zoo this week is also celebrating the opening of the African lions exhibit – a project also helped by an earlier $1.5 million donation from Sanford.
  • The donation also helped fund construction of the new splash pad, which will be called the Denny Sanford Family Splash Pad.
“This gift is a game changer," CEO Becky Dewitz said. "And (it) will allow us to create a regional destination where people can gain an intrinsic understanding and appreciation of the natural world, while also providing families with a quality experience that is memorable and meaningful."

Tell me more about the gift

The $25 million gift depends on securing matching funds.

  • Once the zoo and aquarium have hit the match goal, they'll also receive an additional $10 million gift from Sanford.

What happens next?

The zoo and aquarium will launch a capital campaign to raise matching funds.

The ultimate goal is to bring elements of land, sea and sky together in one location at the zoo's campus.

Want to learn more about changes planned at the zoo?

Get a first look at the zoo’s big plans for growth
The Great Plains Zoo shared a first look at its long-term master plan this week, and it includes some major changes aimed at bringing a better experience to animals and guests alike.
How a zoo, butterfly house merger will make one bigger, better destination
The Great Plains Zoo and the Butterfly House & Aquarium are teaming up under one board. It’ll bring the butterfly house and a much larger aquarium to the zoo campus. Here’s what you need to know.