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Working to Save Wildlife

Conservation is a cornerstone of the Great Plains Zoo’s (GPZ) mission. Alongside the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), we work to save animals from extinction every day.

From rounding up for conservation when you purchase your ticket to participating in boots-on-the-ground field work, GPZ is focused on conservation efforts that move the dial toward species preservation - right at home and across the globe! 

Learn a little bit about GPZ's conservation efforts below!

Black Rhino

Jeff And Rhino Jeff Muntifering On Donkey Patrol

Great Plains Zoo (GPZ) Conservation Biologist Dr. Jeff Muntifering has worked with the critically endangered black rhino in Namibia for 20 years. He is instrumental in developing and expanding a highly successful community-based rhino conservation initiative, resulting in the dramatic reduction in rhino poaching due to the desire to illegally collect and sell rhino horn on the black market. 

By working with organizations like GPZ and Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), Dr. Muntifering and his Namibian colleagues have created a diverse and innovative rhino conservation model focusing on engaging and empowering local people in rhino conservation. At the core of this model are the community Rhino Rangers, appointed by and accountable to their local Conservancy. 

SRT, with over 40 years of experience monitoring the region’s wild black rhino, transfer skills and provide a suite of incentives to the Rhino Rangers that increases the quality and quantity of patrolling. Once the Rhino Rangers become proficient at monitoring, their skills are integrated with unique rhino tracking tourism activities that have become world renowned and provides an additional financing mechanism for rhino protection. 

There is also a strong education component, often led by the Rhino Rangers themselves. This reaches the broader community, and is geared toward instilling pride in and compassion for rhinos, as well as bolstering gratitude towards the rangers. In Namibia, local people attach value to saving rhinos, instead of killing them. It's no wonder that Namibia has become the stronghold for the black rhino.

GPZ is no stranger to black rhino conservation having supported efforts for years. This new initiative greatly expands upon that commitment by actively conserving these amazing species in the wild by supporting a proven successful model at a critical time. GPZ is committed to doing what we can to keep black rhinos from extinction by supporting the work of Dr. Muntifering and becoming a leader in global conservation efforts.


Snow Leopard 

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Snow leopard Strut at Great Plains Zoo

GPZ is proud to embark on a conservation program to protect snow leopards in Nepal. Currently in its development stage, we will soon send GPZ staff to Nepal to work with conservation biologist Dr. Jeff Muntifering and local Nepalese partners.

Staff will assist in developing a community-based approach to conservation to monitor wild snow leopard populations and to increase positive relationships between farmers and snow leopards. GPZ’s hope is to strengthen community involvement in conservation through local ranger and educational programs. We are excited to get this project off the ground and into the mountains!


Dakota Skipper

Skipper Website Dakota Skipper Field Matt

Great Plains Zoo has been working in collaboration with the Minnesota Zoo's Prairie Butterfly Conservation Program to help save a declining species of butterfly native to the prairie lands found in the Upper Midwest, the Dakota Skipper.

The Dakota Skipper is a small, but mighty, pollinator whose population has majorly decreased in recent years due to habitat loss. Together with the Minnesota Zoo and the Butterfly House and Aquarium in Sioux Falls, the Great Plains Zoo is working to create a habitat right here on zoo grounds to help rebuild the Dakota Skipper population.

This is a conservation project that focuses on an important, local species of pollinator. Pollinators are vital to the world. A pollinator is responsible for bringing us about 1 out of every 3 bites of food, along with maintaining ecosystems and habitats for many animals (including humans) all over the world.




The Great Plains Zoo (GPZ) is proud to be a Protector member of the Founders Circle of AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction.

As an AZA accredited zoo, GPZ is partnering with AZA and other AZA institute members for three SAFE programs. We are SAFE partners for the Eastern Black Rhinoceros, as well as Monarch butterflies. We are also very proud of being one of the founding members of the Lion SAFE program, as we work in close contact with AZA throughout our Building Our Community Pride campaign to bring lions to GPZ. The goal of the program is to collaborate with other AZA facilities to focus on conservation efforts for these animals, as we move the dial to save species in need.

SAFE aims to:

  • Protect threatened animals
  • Build on established recovery plans and history of commitment
  • Prioritize collaboration among AZA institutions
  • Implement strategic conservation and stakeholder engagement activities
  • Measure and report on conservation progress


Raptor Rehab

Owl Release Website

The Great Plains Zoo (GPZ) has a raptor rehab program. As a permitted raptor rehab facility, birds come to GPZ for many reasons through Game, Fish, and Parks and other partners.

GPZ receives wounded or abandoned raptors and equips them with the skills needed to survive in the wild. This includes teaching the birds how to fly, if they are unable, and teaching them to hunt, so they can  thrive upon release.

Each raptor is examined, and from there, the GPZ Animal Care team determines which level of rehabilitation they will need. Some birds need a warm place to stay and food until a wound heals, while others need a full education on how to survive in the wild.

Select GPZ staff participate in the Raptor Rehab program, giving our team the chance to participate in conservation efforts right in our backyard.  

Note: While it is understandable to see a baby bird and want to help, please do not take it upon yourself to take the bird. It is likely that the mother is somewhere nearby. We do our best to rehab these birds, but the mother is always the best option.

If you come across an injured bird, contact Game, Fish, and Parks



  • Love this zoo! Great place to get a walk in and the animals are everywhere! The museum/indoor part is very educational too. Has a lot of shade for when it's hot out. Very clean. Friendly staff.

    Taylor F.
  • We love to visit the zoo. They have great outdoor exhibits and lots to do inside as well. Great for kids and adults.

    Robin A.
  • Lots of great exhibits and animals to see! Fun gift shop and learning center.

    Stephanie N.
  • The museum gives you a break from the sun on hot summer days and has a great selection of animal exhibits from around the world. ¬†The zoo keeps growing and adding new animal habitats or improving existing ones. ¬†Membership offers reciprocal benefits to other zoos around the country.

    Bill T.