Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: APR/MAY 2022


Where Wonder Lives

Celebrating 125 years!

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is considered one of the best zoos in the country and also known worldwide. Its mission is to inspire, educate and engage people to serve as lifelong stewards for the conservation of animals and their habitats.

Leadership Letter

We are proud to introduce this issue of metroMAGAZINE celebrating Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and the visionaries, leaders, patrons and team members who have made the Zoo what it is today. Because, ultimately, the story of the Zoo is first and foremost a story of people—of passionate individuals who hold a deep care for the wild creatures of this world and the nature we share in common.

What an appropriate moment to celebrate! After all, the past two years have seen the Zoo go through so many milestones and transitions: Our 125th anniversary. The pandemic which represented the most challenging period in our history. And, of course, the recent passing of one of the Zoo’s most enduring patrons, Walter Scott, Jr.

Yes, it’s been a time of commemoration, challenge and loss; but also of profound optimism for the future.


As you’ll see in the following pages, the Zoo has come a long way from its beginnings as a simple gathering place for picnics, fishing and baseball games at Riverview Park to a true global leader in conservation, animal care and education. Today’s Zoo provides some of the most immersive wildlife environments and experiences imaginable. It is a living classroom that welcomes millions of visitors, cares for 14,000 animals, provides programs that reach more than 150,000 children annually and supports multiple conservation projects around the world to protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats, from Africa to South America to our oceans.

Those numbers and details are impressive. But again, it’s the people behind them that tell a deeper story. And in this issue, you’ll hear from some of them. The Zoo employees who work tirelessly to care for the animals, educate our youth and create an amazing experience for our guests. The volunteers who, together, donate 50,000 hours of time each year. Our everyday donors and our patron members who power the financial engine that makes what we do possible.

Of course, you’ll also encounter past leaders and visionaries, such as Lee ‘Doc’ Simmons, whose intellect and passion laid out the Zoo’s path to a global role in animal care and conservation. Walter Scott, whose passion and big-picture thinking are rooted in the Zoo’s foundations as deeply as our trees and lush greenery. And other notable families whose names, along with the Scotts, are built into our very bricks and stone — the Grewcocks, Hubbards, Daughertys, Owens and Durhams.

You’ll see the influence of these leaders and visionaries everywhere. The Scott African Grasslands and Scott Aquarium. Hubbard Gorilla Valley. The Berniece Grewcock Butterfly and Insect Pavilion. The Robert B. Daugherty Education Center. Owen Sea Lion Shores. The Harper Event Center. And many more amazing exhibits and experiences to come.

Yes, we dedicate this issue to the countless people who have built the Zoo into what it is today—and to those who are carrying our bold mission into the future.

In these all-too-brief pages, you’ll get a glimpse of where we’ve been, where we are and where we are going. You’ll hear a few stories of many kinds of people who play so many different, and vital, roles. But most importantly, we hope you’ll feel the beating heart of the Zoo in everyone who has ever cared for the wild creatures that make the Zoo their home.

~ Dennis Pate, President and CEO, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

~ Tina Cherica, President, Omaha Zoo Foundation

Historical Timeline


A Sprawling Natural Domain

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is considered one of the best zoos in the country and also known worldwide. Its mission is to inspire, educate and engage people to serve as lifelong stewards for the conservation of animals and their habitats.

As Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium celebrates its 125th anniversary, its grounds span 130 acres and it serves as home to over 900 species and more than 30,000 animals within the Zoo and aquarium combined. The Zoo’s mission is centered around conservation, research and education.


“It is acknowledged by some as of not only one of the best zoos in the world, but maybe even the number-one zoo in the United States,” said Dr. Lee Simmons, who joined the Zoo in late 1966 as resident veterinarian and ultimately served as its executive director for decades before retiring in 2009; he serves on the Omaha Zoo Foundation board of directors today.

The Zoo’s exhibits and attractions are bountiful, breathtaking and record-setting: the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium featuring a 900,000-gallon saltwater aquarium; the Lied Jungle, America’s largest indoor rainforest; the Desert Dome, the world’s largest indoor desert atop Kingdom’s of the Night, the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit. And that’s just a small sampling of everything the globally-renowned Zoo has to offer.


Today’s Zoo has come a long way since its beginnings in the last years of the 19th century as Riverview Park Zoo near 9th and Frederick Streets. In its small collection of cages and enclosures that housed a few animals including a grizzly bear and moose, the progenitor zoo’s biggest attraction was two buffalo on loan from military legend and famous showman William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody. A lagoon graced the grounds, and the park gained a pavilion passed down from the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exhibition. By the early 1900s, Riverview Park Zoo’s footprint had expanded to more than 100 acres, with continental species like mountain lions and foxes and a few exotic animals including some monkeys.

It struggled, however, in subsequent decades reflecting the years of drought, depression and war that affected the nation. Simmons said Riverview Park Zoo was relatively unimpressive in the beginning.

“You really couldn’t call it a ‘zoo’ before the Society took it over; it was basically a 1920s WPA (Works Progress Administration) menagerie,” he said.

The Omaha Zoological Society, created in 1952 with the intent of transforming the operation into something “bigger and better,” hired an architect to create a master plan to help get it there. The Zoo expanded its animal collection in the relatively prosperous 1950s, adding a llama, an emu and an elephant among its specimens.


In 1963, Margaret Hitchcock Doorly, daughter of Omaha World-Herald founder and U.S. Senator Gilbert Hitchcock, donated $750,000 with the condition that the Zoo be renamed for her late husband, Henry Doorly, chairman of the World Publishing Company (Omaha World-Herald) and Children’s Memorial Hospital founder. That gift was the seed that helped the Zoo transition out of its status as a small municipal zoo. In 1965, the zoological society reorganized as a nonprofit to finance and maintain the Zoo. Major projects such as the bear grotto and large-primate quarters were launched around this time, supported by substantial donations like one from Aksarben to start the Zoo’s Nature Kingdom aimed for young visitors, or the quarter of a million dollars donated by Peter Kiewit, president of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Incorporated. Warren Thomas was hired as the Zoo director, and he in turn brought in Simmons, who succeeded him in 1970.

“In the early days when (wife) Marie and I first came to town, there were only 10 employees. We had a budget of $100,000,” Simmons said. “There were things we did early on that were by sheer grit and determination.”

Simmons hit the ground running when he joined the Zoo in 1966. His home often served as temporary quarters for baby animals, and housed Zoo colleagues visiting from around the country in pre-internet days and before the Zoo had research and education facilities and scientific staff.


A 1968 conversation between Peter Kiewit and Simmons led to the Eugene C. Eppley Pachyderm Hill building. Other developments of that decade included the Union Pacific Railroad’s Omaha Zoo Railroad. Omahans of a certain age likely still remember the 1970s fundraising campaign coined by Mayor Eugene Leahy said. “Support Your Local Cat House,” that helped fund the Cat Complex, the largest in the nation at that time.

The 1970s also saw strong membership support, growing conservation efforts for rare and endangered species, and even the unearthing and conversion of a circa-1916 swimming pool to bring together the Owen Sea Lion Plaza. The legendary orangutan lockpicker, Fu Manchu, made headlines with his antics. More rare animals were added to the Zoo’s population and some additional exhibits like a small saltwater aquarium, the Aksarben waterfall and reptile habitats.

“In the early days when (wife) Marie and I first came to town, there were only 10 employees. We had a budget of $100,000. There were things we did early on that were by sheer grit and determination”

~ Dr. Lee Simmons, Omaha Zoo Foundation

1980s highlights included the addition of the Simmons Aviary, the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Pavilion, renovations to the gorilla and orangutan buildings, World-Herald Square and First Tier Wolf Woods.

Zoo development soared in the early 1990s and through the 2000s, said Simmons.

“When we really put the Zoo on the map both nationally and internationally is when we did the Lied Jungle (1992). That was the biggest and best of its kind anywhere then, and is still considered perhaps the best total immersion exhibit in North America.

Then we followed that with the aquarium (1995) and then the Desert Dome (2002) and Kingdoms of the Night (2003). And then the gorillas (Hubbard Gorilla Valley, 2004) and orangs (Hubbard Orangutan Forest, 2005). We had a pretty unusual run, even back then, in that we were averaging doing a new exhibit about every second or third year,” Simmons recalled. “And then in the last 10 years… the pace was actually even accelerated from that.”


Simmons said his aims were modest when he started.

“We wanted to simply build up to build a hopefully medium-sized zoo; I don’t think we had any aspirations of being the major Zoo we are today. Omaha is not that big of a town by comparison to New York and Chicago and L.A. and St. Louis, towns that have huge populations and therefore a lot more money,” he explained. “I think in those early days if somebody would have said, ‘Would you ever have something like the Lied Jungle or the Desert Dome or even the Gorilla Valley, let alone some of the things we’ve done just in the past few years?’ we would probably have just simply shaken our heads. Because money was so hard to come by.”

Simmons proved to be a gifted fundraiser who built important relationships with key individuals who wanted to see the Zoo evolve.

The late Walter Scott, Jr. (see page 20) was a supporter like no other, Simmons said. The philanthropist and longtime Chairman and CEO of construction firm Kiewit Sons’, Inc. played an important role in the Zoo’s development over several decades.

It was a gradual process to secure funding and expand the Zoo, Simmons added. “One project at a time, one project at a time.”

celebrating 125.jpg

“The good thing is that we were not a government entity; we were not city- or county- or state-run like so many zoos…One of the things I think has set us apart is that very early on we operated not like a charity, but because of our leadership we were able to operate much more like a for-profit, stick our neck out and take risks,” he said. “So a lot of things that got done, particularly in those early days, was because we were able to take risks and had people like Walter who were backstopping us. And we kind of adopted an expanded operating procedure where if we had a new project we wanted to do, if we could raise half the money, we could take a deep breath, jump off the end of the pier, paddle like crazy and figure that we’d raise the last half by the time we got done with the project. It always worked out. For 40 years we brought in every project on time and on budget, period.”


The Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park, a 440-acre drive-through park near Ashland, opened in 1998. The park is associated with the Zoo and features dozens of native North American species from bison and black bears to wolves, deer and various birds. Conservation is an important part of the Zoo’s mission in general and has been especially meaningful to Simmons from the beginning.

In 2009, Dennis Pate (see page 9), whose Zoo career began in the early 1960s, became the Zoo’s executive director. He continues to serve the Zoo today as president and CEO. Under his leadership, the Zoo has opened multiple exhibits including the African Grasslands, Alaskan Adventure, Bay Family Children’s Adventure Trails, Daugherty Education Center, Stingray Beach, Expedition Madagascar, Asian Highlands, Owen Sea Lion Shores; and also created new guest services amenities such as Glacier Bay Landing, Gift Shop, Guest Services, Ticketing and Redemption, and North Gate Entrance—plus has seen record attendance. In February, Pate announced his retirement, and the Zoo will be conducting a national search for its next leader.

The Great Midwest Ocean

Bringing the seas to the plains

Nebraska may be the only triple-landlocked U.S. state and about a thousand miles from the nearest ocean waters, but the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium is home to penguins, tropical fish, coral, sea turtles, jellyfish and sharks. Built in 1995, its realistic and detailed displays give visitors a sense of distant water environments including polar regions, temperate oceans, coral reefs and the Amazon River. The showcase of the 900,000-gallon saltwater aquarium is a 70-foot tunnel, which allows visitors a unique view where they become a display, in a way, for the marine life that dwells there.


The Scott Aquarium is the largest aquarium on the grounds of any zoo, and is named for major donors Walter Scott, Jr. (see page 20), and his wife, Suzanne (see page 24). Scott was CEO of Kiewit Corporation, which first became involved with the Zoo in the early 1960s. The Scotts formed the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation in 1990.

The Scott Aquarium is also home to important work to preserve and revitalize coral, an animal which Curator of Aquatics Mitch Carl said is essential to the health of the waters it occupies and that of the surrounding ecosystem. Nearly 20 years ago, the Zoo began a relationship with SECORE International, an international nonprofit focused on coral reef conservation.

“We are also participating now in the Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project (FRTRP). This project entailed taking 3,000 corals off the reef in the Florida Keys due to stony coral wasting disease that was wiping out over 20 species of corals,” Carl said. These corals will be held until the disease has passed, and their offspring will be placed back onto the reef in hopes of replenishing the reefs of Florida with disease-free corals.

“Corals require water above 68 degrees in general, fairly nutrient poor water, good sunlight,” Carl said, explaining that without those conditions, coral reproduction and survival are inhibited. Threats to coral worldwide include disease, changes in temperature, pollution, destructive fishing practices and other hazards. That in turn removes food and habitat for other marine life, or as Carl put it said. “The big picture is the health of the ocean.”

Exhibit: Aquarium

The Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium is home to numerous aquatic species from all over the world. It’s also part of important conservation work with significant environmental impact.

“The big picture is the health of the ocean”

~Mitch Carl, Curator of Aquatics

Let it Rain

A better place to live

In 1990, the 80-foot-tall, multilevel Lied Jungle opened to the public, bringing visitors to the rainforest environments of Africa, Asia and South America and introducing their native plants and animals. The Lied Jungle’s introduction was credited for doubling Zoo attendance and ushering in the next era of the Zoo’s evolution in habitat development.

Terri Gouveia, Curator of Horticulture for the Zoo, was brought in to help create what is now North America’s largest indoor tropical rainforest exhibit.


“The Lied Jungle created the perfect opportunity to convey the message of conservation by letting people experience all the magic of its diversity in one-and-a-half acres and have a personal and visual connection to what it means when we hear that 10,000 acres of that magic are being destroyed every day,” she said, adding that the exhibit is serving as a catalyst for conservation action.

“As one of the first in immersion exhibits, it was exciting times in unchartered waters. Dr. Simmons had a very clear vision of the exhibit representing animals and plants of Asia, South America and African rainforest habitats,” Gouveia said. “It was my job along with project manager Danny Morris to make that vision a reality within 18 months, selecting and finding plant specimens, arranging digging, shipping, and coordinating installation with our in-house volunteers from every Zoo department. Then, the challenges of getting it all to live and acclimate to this indoor environment in Nebraska filled my love of being a grower.”

Today, the horticulture team makes the plant selections and coordinates the sourcing, shipping and installation for various exhibits from the African Grasslands to Asian Highlands, Gouveia said. “The team continues to transform the park by continually adding unique botanical selections to the collections for our guests to enjoy.”

Exhibit: Lied Jungle

The Lied Jungle immerses visitors in the atmosphere of African, Asian and South American tropical rainforests and introduces them to the plant and animal life of those regions so far away from Nebraska.

“As one of the first in immersion exhibits, it was exciting times in uncharted waters. Dr. Simmons had a very clear vision of the exhibit representing animals and plants of Asia, South America, and African rainforest habitats.”

~Terri Gouvia, Curator of Horticulture

The Man & The Vision Walter Scott, Jr.

The late Walter Scott, Jr. was one of the Zoo’s greatest supporters and biggest fans. His friends and associates reflect on Scott’s many contributions and long-lasting influence.

Philanthropist Walter Scott, Jr., who died in September 2021, was the longtime Chairman and CEO of construction firm Kiewit Sons’, Inc. He was also a great friend and supporter of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, said Calvin Sisson, President & CEO of the Suzanne & Walter Scott Foundation.

“Walter was very generous to the Zoo. Aside from the monetary impact, he created an environment where the Zoo was able to open something new—an exhibit, attraction or program—that helped keep the membership and annual attendance numbers very strong,” he said. “The success of the Zoo over many decades can be traced to this one important element: Keep interest high by building world-class exhibits and then let the visitors ‘vote with their feet.'"

Both Zoo Directors, Dennis Pate currently and Dr. Lee Simmons formerly, called Scott a friend as well as a partner and supporter instrumental to the development of the Zoo. Scott took a special interest in the Zoo because of its educational value to the community

“Walter loved the outdoors and learning new things. By having a world-class Zoo in our community, young people were given the chance to expand their worldview by seeing animals in immersive exhibits that they may never get to see outside of Omaha. It’s easy to focus on the economic impact that the Zoo has, and Walter wouldn’t discount that fact. But he really liked the education mission,” Simmons said.

“Walter had an eye for detail as we went on golf cart trips around the Zoo. He wanted the Zoo to be at its best for everyone who entered its gates.” 

~Dennis Pate, President and CEO of Omaha’s Zoo and Aquarium 


In the announcement he sent to the Scott Foundation board sharing the news of Scott’s passing, Sisson hailed Scott as a team-builder.

“The many associations and friendships he developed were a big part of how he was able to have such an outsized impact. His engineering side liked to tinker with ideas on how to make our community a better place,” Sisson wrote. “He succeeded.”

Scott joined the Omaha Zoological Society in 1975, making his first major financial contribution to the Zoo for its Cat Complex. He became chairman of the Zoo’s board of directors in 1982 and served for many years as chairman of the Zoo’s foundation. Scott’s four-plus-decades relationship with the Zoo is evident throughout the grounds of the Zoo, from the namesake Scott Aquarium to every other major project that has taken place during his years of involvement. He once even literally auctioned the shirt off his back, with friend Warren Buffett making the winning bid, at an early Zoofari fundraiser. Scott was also a frequent Zoo visitor, known for his golf-cart tours through the grounds that inspired new ideas for future projects.


“Walter was an engineer, as everybody knows, and he approached life and the world from an engineer’s point of view,” Simmons said, adding with a chuckle said. “One of the things I learned early on was that you never gave Walter a number if you were talking about money unless you were damn sure, because he remembered that bloody number forever and expected you to meet the number, whatever number you gave him.”

Scott set the character and personality of the board and the Zoo, and gave the team “the freedom to take risks,” Simmons added. “Walter didn’t micromanage. You agreed to do something and he expected you to do it, but he didn’t tell you how to do it.”


Mogens Bay, who succeeded Scott as chairman of the Zoo’s board and foundation, had a long association with Scott through Valmont’s board and The Walter Scott Jr. Family Foundation, as well as decades of shared interest in the Zoo. Bay said Scott, who “had such a love for the Zoo,” was not only personally devoted, but also committed his financial resources, which attracted other philanthropic players in the community.

“We are blessed in Omaha with a philanthropic community that is the most generous I can think of anywhere in the country,” Bay said. “You see philanthropy in everything important that has been built (at the Zoo).”

Simmons added that Scott was an avid outdoorsman who was fascinated by animals, although he pointed out that Scott had his favorites.

“Walter liked warm, fuzzy animals that looked straight at you. He was not fond or enthusiastic about snakes and bugs and things like that,” Simmons said, adding that although Scott enjoyed photo ops with some species said. “We never got him to hold a snake or a bug.”

Scott’s legacy lives on in the thriving Zoo, Simmons said.

“There’s absolutely no questions that if it hadn’t been for Walter’s influence and support, the Zoo wouldn’t be even remotely the size and quality that it is.”

Center for Conservation and Research

The Zoo’s Grewcock Center for Conservation and Research is an important partner in global conservation efforts and research. It also supports ongoing training for students and personnel representing zoos from all over the U.S. as well as many other countries.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has built a dynamic program of scientific investigation in molecular genetics, reproductive physiology, nutrition and conservation medicine. Its conservation programs have a global impact through numerous projects both in the wild and in zoos or other protective facilities, and include collaborations with many like-minded entities.

The Zoo has been involved in research and conservation for decades, but in 1996 opened its first official research facility with attached veterinary medical quarters. Ten years later, the Bill and Berniece Grewcock Center for Conservation and Research completed the Hubbard Research wing expansion, doubling the research area and providing additional medical facilities to greatly enhance the Zoo’s ability to respond to conservation needs. This expansion also allows the Zoo to more effectively train students and colleagues from around the world.

Vice President of Conservation and Animal Health Dr. Jason Herrick oversees the Zoo’s research departments.

“The Departments of Animal Health, Nutrition, and Behavioral Husbandry and Welfare work with all of the animals—and their amazing keepers—throughout the Zoo on a daily basis. As you might imagine, interactions between the animal areas and the Department of Reproductive Sciences are more specific to the animals and the needs of the animal care staff and, therefore, less frequent,” he explained. “Many of the animals are managed by Species Survival Plans, which make very specific recommendations for which males and females should breed and when. Sometimes those animals get along and do what they are supposed to. In those cases, Reproductive Sciences usually just helps with pregnancy testing and monitoring. Most of our work, though, is for for the animals that don’t breed when they are supposed to. Our specialties are cats and rhinos, which involves work here in Omaha, but also extensive collaboration with zoos across the U.S.”

Center for Conservation.jpg

Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians Jessi Krebs has been devoted to amphibian conservation since he joined the Zoo 25 years ago. He named habitat loss and pollution among the factors that are depleting and even decimating species in the wild and lauded the biosecure facility that keeps species safe from pathogen exchange as his team helps them propagate.

“We do everything big here. We have 4,200 square feet dedicated to 13 different isolation rooms. Thousands of animals are produced here every year and are going back to the wild. We hit a milestone last year: 100,000 animals produced here using zookeeper power and Zoo resources,” he said, adding said. “They are such an important part of our ecosystem. If you lose amphibians, everything crumbles… These smaller animals are the foundation of life.”

Amphibians’ permeable skin makes them susceptible to absorbing harmful pollutants, so the health of species in the wild serves as a canary-in-the-coal-mine indicator for other creatures, including human beings, Krebs explained.

“It takes us longer as humans to be affected, but it makes its way to us,” he said. “These amphibians are showing us that these areas are bad and that they need to be cleaned up, and it will catch up to us.”

The work of the Center for Conservation and Research is not only vital, it’s all-encompassing, Herrick said. (see EXHIBITION: MADAGASCAR, page 26)

“Our biggest impact on conservation is the animals we have here. Together with all of the other accredited zoos in the U.S., we are working to maintain assurance populations for species at risk of extinction in the wild. Those populations allow us to educate and inspire our guests about the current extinction crisis many species are facing. With more than 1.7 million guests each year, that is really our opportunity to make a difference,” Herrick said. “However, that is not all we do. The Zoo is also working hard to make our own operations more sustainable with more efficient use of resources and increased recycling. Finally, the Zoo directly supports conservation efforts in the range countries of the species that we manage with participation of Zoo staff, financial assistance, or both.”

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-17.pdf.jpg

Lozier theater; Garden of the senses; Sue’s wildlife carousel

In the late 1990s the Zoo added several new features including Sue’s Wildlife Carousel, the Garden of the Senses, and the Lozier Giant Screen Theater that continue to delight visitors today.


The Lozier Giant Screen Theater screen is truly “giant,” measuring 41 feet tall by 75 feet wide—a few feet wider than even a typical IMAX screen. By comparison, most movie theater screens are 45 to 50 feet wide.

The seating area accommodates 358 viewers (324 for 3D movies) and all seats are great seats in a theater with such a large screen. The Lozier Theater also boasts a state-of-the-art sound system and projector for 2D and 3D films. Audio and visual assistive devices are available to guests upon request.

Lozier Theater.jpg

The Lozier Theater, which opened in 1997, primarily features nature films. The late Allan Lozier, who headed Lozier Corporation and Lozier Foundation, provided funding for the theater, which reflected his love of technology.

The Lozier Giant Screen Theater is one of the perks of a Zoo membership.


The Garden of the Senses opened in spring 1998 near the picnic pavilions and lagoon on the east side of the Zoo grounds and was renovated in 2014 to include preschool classrooms and flexible space. The garden includes more than 250 different species of herbs, perennials, trees and flowers and birds including cockatoos, macaws and parrots. Refreshing fountains and the bronze sculptures are a popular site for photos.

The garden was designed to provide visitors with a multisensory experience, including accommodating visitors with visual impairment with Braille signage and welcoming everyone to enjoy the garden’s textures, sounds and fragrances.


The late Suzanne Scott was very active in community affairs, chairing many civic events and serving on numerous nonprofit guilds and boards. In 1984, she became founding executive director of the Omaha Zoo Foundation. Sue’s Wildlife Carousel, added in 1999 on the north side of the Zoo, was named in her honor (the Scott Alaskan Adventure splashground, the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, and the Suzanne and Walter Scott African Grasslands also bear her name).

In 2019, the carousel became a feature for a renovated plaza featuring concessions, the splashground and other amenities. Glacier Bay Landing restaurant opened on the site of the former Red Barn Park petting zoo, which dated to 1966.

The carousel is 36 feet in diameter and its 30 brilliantly enameled animals include traditional circus horses along with a variety of wild animals— Zoo inhabitants like zebra, gorilla, deer, giraffe, tiger, ostrich, rabbit, rooster, elephant, leopard, rhino and goat—and sea dragon and two chariots. More than 1,600 sparkling lights and music add to its nostalgic charm.

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-18.pdf.jpg

A Glittering Landmark

The Zoo’s iconic Desert Dome represents three deserts: the Namib Desert of southern Africa, the Red Center of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern U.S. Its exhibits span 42,000 square feet on each of two levels.

Deserts are dry regions, yet they still harbor plant and animal life, so the exhibits feature flora and fauna from the African, Australian and American deserts.

Exhibit: Desert Dome and Kingdoms of the Night

Wonder under the dome

The glazed geodesic dome that houses the Desert Dome and Kingdom of the Night exhibits is the largest animal exhibit of its kind in the world. Not only is it one of the icons in the logo for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, its towering presence has made it a landmark for the Zoo itself since its installation 20 years ago.

The Desert Dome represents three deserts: the Namib Desert of southern Africa, the Red Center of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern U.S., and encompasses 42,000 square feet on each of two levels.

Deserts are dry regions, yet they still harbor plant and animal life, so the exhibits feature flora and fauna from the respective regions. Desert plants include succulents, palms, mesquite trees, grasses, herbs and shrubs. Some of the animal species housed in the Desert Dome are a variety of reptiles (including venomous snakes), klipspringers, rock wallabies, ocelots and bobcats, peccaries, and more. The Desert Dome Sun Room showcases reptile and amphibian hatchlings, giving them exposure to beneficial ultraviolet rays from the sun, and highlights some of the Zoo’s related conservation and research projects.


The world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, Eugene T. Mahoney Kingdoms of the Night, lies beneath the Desert Dome. A reversal of the animals’ day-night cycles makes it possible for guests to observe the natural nocturnal activity of Kingdoms of the Night inhabitants, although walkways are lighted for safety and displays and educational kiosks are lighted sufficiently for viewers to enjoy.

Kingdoms of the Night’s exhibits represent various environments from canyons to wet caves to a eucalyptus forest with animals and plants including fish, bats, crocodiles and turtles in barrier-free habitats. It also contains a 160,000-gallon indoor swamp, the world’s largest, and more than 30 species in barrier-free habitats.

Hubbard Gorilla Valley

In the recently renovated Hubbard Gorilla Valley, Gorillas and visitors view each other eye to eye with mere inches of glass between them.

Gorillas have been a favorite attraction for Zoo visitors for decades, and many locals still share stories about the antics of Casey, the 600-pound Western lowland gorilla who was highly popular during his 12 years at the Zoo from 1968 to 1980. Casey would have loved the Hubbard Gorilla Valley, which was constructed in April 2004 and renovated in 2021.

Gorillas and visitors view each other eye to eye with mere inches of glass between them, and there are new amenities for the primates like complex natural-timber climbing structures along with enhancements to the outdoor habitat like a variety of plant life to encourage natural foraging and problem-solving. Waterfalls and streams create interest and encourage movement, and the sprinkler system can irrigate plants or provide cooling mist for the gorillas on hot days.


The gorillas spend three seasons outdoors, but Gorilla Valley provides indoor quarters for winter.

It’s also home to other animals including cattle egrets, white-faced ducks, white storks, Abyssinian blue-winged geese, cape teals, African spurred tortoises, black crowned cranes, yellow-backed duikers, Abyssinian ground hornbills, and colobus monkeys.

The family group is rotated with bachelor males in the large group exhibit so the juvenile gorillas can interact with the structures and forage naturally.

Some of the 2021 enhancements are for the benefits of human visitors, including a new north entrance, additional benches, African jungle-themed decor, more outdoor shade, and an upgraded education hub with interactive touch screens, photo murals, video monitors and display cases. Visitors can learn more about how the Zoo is a major partner in global gorilla conservation efforts like Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, for which Dennis Pate (see page 14), the Zoo’s President and CEO, serves as a board member.

There’s also an updated children’s play area with bronze gorilla sculptures who don’t mind being touched and are always camera-ready.

Henry Doorly Zoo.jpg

Berniece Grewcock Butterfly and Insect Pavilion

It’s no coincidence that, viewed from above, the Berniece Grewcock Butterfly and Insect Pavilion facility is evocative of a winged insect. The facility was created for total immersion, with a butterfly conservatory featuring waterfalls, a water-lily pool and many beautiful butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. The insect pavilion houses ants, scorpions, spiders, walking sticks, mantids, centipedes, roaches, beetles and various other creatures.

The Butterfly and Insect Pavilion is one of the Zoo facilities that carry the Grewcock name; the Bill and Berniece Grewcock Center for Conservation and Research (see page 22) is the other. Both represent the long association the Grewcock family has had with the Zoo, Bruce Grewcock said. His late father, Bill, a Kiewit executive, was asked by Peter Kiewit in 1968 to devise a method to dig a moat for the elephant facility being built at the time. Grewcock became a significant supporter and member of the boards of both the Omaha Zoological Society and the Omaha Zoo Foundation boards. Berniece Grewcock, the family matriarch, has long had a sweet spot for animals, especially elephants, her son said.

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022.pdf.jpg

The Grewcock name on two of the Zoo’s facilities reflects the family’s sponsorship, but they also sponsored the elephant habitat, the 2016 African Grasslands exhibit’s star attraction (see page 38). That exhibit is officially named the Berniece and Bill Grewcock Elephant Habitat, but Bill Grewcock was not motivated by receiving credit for his contributions and chose to keep his name off most of the projects he supported, his son said. Bill Grewcock was also a champion of conservation, serving on the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Game and Parks Foundation boards and generously supporting the Nebraska Humane Society.

Bill and Berniece Grewcock instilled their love of the Zoo in the next generation, and as executive chairman for Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc., Bruce Grewcock has witnessed the construction firm’s history with Zoo development. He and his wife, Deb, have chaired the Zoofari fundraiser and continue to support the Zoo financially.

“I can’t claim near as much involvement as my parents have,” he said. “I think maybe people don’t know that they were the ones who donated the land for the Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park down by Ashland. I don’t hold a candle to some of the things they’ve done.”

In the spring of 2022, the Grewcock family’s gift to the Zoo’s previous Zoofari earned them naming rights for a new elephant calf, Eugenia (a family name). And the living legacy is a wonderful acknowledgement of Berniece Grewcock’s fondness for pachyderms… and maybe a little bit symbolic of something else?

“My mother is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, so I am guessing that is where the affinity came from,” her son said, wryly.

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-2.pdf.jpg

Hubbard Expedition Madagascar

Hubbard Expedition Madagascar is a 300-foot-long exhibit showcasing a wide variety of animal species native to the island nation including many types of lemurs, aye-ayes, fossas, giant jumping rats and fruit bats. Plant species hailing from Madagascar are also highlighted.

Hubbard Expedition Madagascar opened in 2010. The 300-foot-long exhibit, anchored by a 17,000-square-foot main building, houses 15 exhibits showcasing a wide variety of animal species native to the island nation including many lemurs (ring-tailed lemurs, red ruffed lemurs, black-and-white ruffed lemurs, black lemurs, mongoose lemurs, collared lemurs, brown lemurs and more). The lemurs live among man-made baobab trees, a succulent that produces a nutrient-dense fruit in the dry season and is sometimes called the tree of life, representing an environment similar to Madagascar.


Other species within Expedition Madagascar include aye-ayes, which are small primates; fossas, a predator and relative of the mongoose with a feline-like appearance; giant jumping rats; and fruit bats. A greenhouse among the exhibits also highlights plant species hailing from Madagascar.

Exhibits are also designed to educate visitors about Madagascar, an area of the world considered one of the top hotspots for biodiversity because it is home to the largest number of endemic (native only to that country) plant and animal species; at least 75 percent of known animal species from the island are not found anywhere else in the world.

Throughout the building, each exhibit is linked to ongoing projects in Madagascar, and Expedition Madagascar helps acquaint visitors with one of the premier conservation partnerships in the world. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is dedicated to the conservation work on the island as part of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership. The Zoo has been working in Madagascar since 1998 through MBP, led by the Zoo’s own Dr. Edward E. Louis Jr., Director of Conservation Genetics (see page 34).

At least 75 percent of known animal species from the island of Madagascar are not found anywhere else in the world.

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-2.pdf.jpg

Reforestation Research and Habitat

Madagascar is home to rich rainforests inhabited by many animals found nowhere else in the world. The Zoo supports reforestation efforts focused on providing habitat for lemurs, the most threatened group of primates, and research to monitor and study animals native to the island nation.

There are almost 10,000 miles between Omaha and the Republic of Madagascar, and a lot of differences: Madagascar is an island nation with mountains and coastline, Omaha is within a plains region in the interior of a continent. Madagascar’s climate is largely tropical and temperate, Nebraska experiences wide seasonal temperature variations. Madagascar is designated by the United Nations to be one of the world’s least developed countries, Omaha is a city in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Madagascar’s rainforests are some of the richest on the planet and serve as home to animals found nowhere else (many endangered), Omaha is a largely developed city.

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-10.pdf.jpg

Nevertheless, because of the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, there is a close tie between the two places. Dr. Edward E. Louis Jr. is the Zoo’s Director of Conservation Genetics and founder of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP). Since 1998, he has been traveling to and working in Madagascar on behalf of the Zoo. In April 2021, the Zoo—in collaboration with the MBP and supported by the Arbor Day Foundation—announced the planting of the four-millionth tree in Madagascar. It follows 12 years of reforestation efforts focused on providing habitat for lemurs, the most threatened group of primates, for whom habitat loss is a serious threat.

The primary reforestation program is in Kianjavato in southeastern Madagascar. The forest fragments surrounding the small community are home to nine lemur species including the critically endangered black-and-white ruffed lemur that can be seen at the Zoo. The work benefits humans, too. Various native trees including timber and fruit-bearing trees planted as part of the reforestation effort also provide resources for locals, who voluntarily participate in planting around 18,000 trees every week under the organization of MBP. MBP also supports more than 150 full-time Malagasy employees as field assistants, project supervisors, office employees, horticulturists and supporting field personnel.

“That’s one of the good things about our program; we’re not just monitoring lemurs or trying to protect the site and the forest, we’re working directly with the community, which allows us to plant as many trees as we do,” Louis said, adding that the buy-in from the people in the area ensures success. “When we first started there was a lot of doubt, because they’ve had a lot of foreigners come in and promise things and do some great things but leave and not come back… It is really crucial that we have put roots in the ground and that we are there every day of the year.”

As the trees mature, they add to the reforestation process through natural means, Louis said. “dropping seeds and reproducing on their own,” making the forest increasingly self-sustaining.

MBP researchers also monitor and study animals native to Madagascar, and are credited with the discovery of 24 new lemur species.

“We have to act quickly and we have to be focused in what we do,” Louis said. “You can get involved in multiple ways. You don’t have to go to Madagascar, to Africa, to get involved. That would be the message: get involved: it’s your kids’ future.”

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-5.pdf.jpg

What does the zoo mean to you?

Zoo Q's...


Sherry Fletcher, Volunteer Docent, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

I love Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and have loved it since I moved here in 1978. I knew early on that I wanted to be a docent at the Zoo and was thrilled when I retired from full-time work and began my volunteer career at the Zoo.

As impressed as I already was by this wonderful Zoo, when I began my docent training I was awed by the multitude of conservation efforts that take place behind the scenes.

We people of Omaha are incredibly lucky to have a worldclass Zoo with an international reputation, thanks to dedicated employees and our generous donors. I am honored to be a small part of this amazing organization.

Docents are part of the education department and we get to share our passion for animals and this Zoo with visitors of all ages. I hope that in some small way I am contributing to the Zoo’s conservation mission when I interact with our guests. I couldn’t be prouder to be a volunteer at our Zoo!

Juan Garcia, Maintenance Tech, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

The Zoo has taken a very different meaning for myself in my own personal growth. It has offered me the opportunity to learn many different functions throughout. From the freedom to enhance the Zoo by painting an area in the gift shop to sealing an exhibit for a reptile, this work gives me a sense of satisfaction that is hard to match compared to other jobs I’ve held in the past.

The friendships and knowledge I’ve gained so far are priceless to me in the sense that I will carry them both with me forever. I’ve also had the opportunity to be very up-close and personal with practically every animal in the Zoo and witness how keepers love and care for them. Seeing the excitement of kids and our guests’ faces as they walk into the Zoo makes me take a step back and realize the magic this place has to offer. It means more than a paycheck, it’s a way of life that only few people get to experience: Zoo life!

Dan Houser, Large Mammal Curator, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

To me, the Zoo means ‘opportunity.’ I’ve always experienced the Zoo as a place of opportunity: opportunities for individual experience and development, opportunities to help others develop, and opportunities to play a supportive role in the Zoo’s organizational growth and development.

As one of the Zoo’s few living dinosaurs, I’ve spent nearly half a century working with extraordinary people and extraordinary animals as the Zoo matured from its first early steps toward development into what’s globally recognized as one of the Midwest’s brightest stars. Good people are the reason we have the Zoo you see today, by either creating opportunities for progress or grabbing onto opportunities which presented themselves.

As much as I value time spent with the animals, I also place equally high value on the opportunity to work with talented, hardworking and dedicated people. Our historical accomplishments were chaptered by those working within the Zoo and from generous members within our local community. Those individuals were and continue to be parts of the engine that brought us to where we are today, and where we’ll be tomorrow.

Sue Siedlik Lyons, Director or Guest Operations, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Family, pride and progress.

Family: We consider hundreds of co-workers and volunteers our ‘Zoo family.’ Without each one, we would not be where we are today. Family also represents members and guests. Seeing smiles on the faces of our guests is my favorite thing because I know that we are playing a small part in creating memories for them.

Pride: I am so proud to be part of where we came from, where we are today and where we are heading. We provide a unique activity which can be enjoyed by every person in the community.

Progress: From the early ‘70s with little more than a few lions, tigers, bears, wolves and monkeys and just over 250,000 guests to 2021 where the Omaha Zoo is now worldrenowned with more than 1,000 species and 34,000 specimens and 1.7 million guests, we have certainly come a long way. We continue to plan and invest in our future, guaranteeing we will be here for a long, long time to come.

Collin Nguyen, Zoo Academy Student

Well, I think the general meaning of the Zoo is a place where people can see and interact with animals that they may never have seen before; animals that you couldn’t

find in your backyard. But to me? The Zoo is a place of comfortability, it is a place where I get my best education. Being in Zoo Academy has taught me a lot of things about the environment, conservation and—of course—animals! But most importantly—about myself.

I have created such fond memories at the Zoo, from watching the sea lions swim at the new Sea Lion Shores, laughing along with my fellow Zoo Academy students during class, or learning about new interests shadowing with the Meadowlark Crew.

The Zoo to me isn’t just a place where I go and watch animals do things they would do in the wild. It’s a little home away from home that I created, a place I feel most comfortable—in my natural habitat, if you will. Zoo to me is long-lasting memories and experiences that I will cherish forever.

Meghan Paintin, Preschool Teacher, Little Lions Preschool at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has been a valuable part of my own children’s memories growing up in Omaha. When my kids were young, we spent every Friday exploring the Zoo! Over the years, it’s been exciting to watch the Zoo grow and change.

As a teacher and animal lover, I enjoy being able to create learning experiences and memories for my preschoolers in the Zoo environment. Having the Zoo as a classroom provides seemingly endless resources and opportunities for learning. It is empowering to be immersed in an environment where animal care, animal conservation, and education are a high priority. What does the Omaha Zoo mean to me? Conservation, education and an Omaha tradition.

Josh Shandera, Senior Hoofstock Keeper, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

As a zookeeper, I think the Zoo means opportunities. The opportunity to educate the public about the importance of preserving the natural world and the wildlife we share it with, and the opportunity to be directly involved in the welfare and conservation of the animals in our care here at the Zoo.

My coworkers are truly some of the most passionate and hardworking people I know and I can think of few things as rewarding as the relationships we create, both human and animal alike. Sometimes we get thanked for our ‘service’ as zookeepers. However, I remind those supporters to thank the animals.

They’re the true ambassadors for their species, doing the real work of inspiring people to care about conservation and the future of our planet. I feel incredibly fortunate to get the privilege of calling this ‘work’ and coming here every day to hopefully make an impact in the lives of these animals, as well as the people who support the Zoo so unconditionally.

Sarah Woodhouse, Director of Animal Health, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

As the chief veterinarian for the Zoo, I have a very different perspective than many others. I see and care for the animals and their caretakers at the best of times and at the worst of times.

Thus, the Zoo has many different meanings for me. It means joy and sorrow, stress and fulfillment, inadequacy and pride, constant challenges and a job well-done. It means tough conversations and hard laughter. It literally means blood, sweat and tears.

At the end of the day, it means I have a place to pour my heart and soul: into my care for our animals, into the conservation of wild animals, and into a shared passion with all of the incredible humans who care for and about the animals.

Ellen Wright, Community Volunteer

My husband Stavely and I have been involved with our amazing Zoo for many years, as donors and me as a volunteer. Seeing our Zoo’s growth and its consistent commitment to conservation is truly inspiring to us as a family.

Whenever you commit time and treasure to a nonprofit, you need to be secure in its leadership; our Zoo has an incredible staff, both at the foundation and Zoo level. Our animal experts in all departments are extraordinary people; their tremendous dedication in caring for our animals and their willingness to enlighten all who come through our gates is the reason our Zoo in one of the finest in the world.

We feel blessed and privileged to have the opportunity to be part of such an amazing organization.

Roaming free

The Suzanne and Walter Scott African Grasslands, which opened in 2016, is the largest project ever undertaken in the Zoo’s 125-year history, changing the fundamental look of the Zoo’s entire eastern side with panoramic views of grasslands and African wildlife; grasses, acacia-like trees, kopjes (small hills) and minimal visual barriers; and 25 new buildings and structures.

“Scott African Grasslands has possibly been the most transformative due to its impact on animal welfare and its size of more than 28 acres,”

~Dennis Pate, the Zoo’s President and CEO.

The area houses numerous species: giraffes southern white rhinoceros, plains zebras, ostriches, meerkats, klipspringers, rock hyraxes, white-throated monitor lizards, crested guineafowl, African pygmy goats, sable antelopes, bongos, lions, cheetahs and other animal species.

And, of course, elephants. Scott African Grasslands is home to the Zoo’s herd, who arrived in 2016 after an eight-year period without any elephants. In early 2022, the Zoo staff was overjoyed to add two calves, Sonny and Eugenia to the elephant population. They are the first two African elephants to be born at the Zoo, and a new calf is expected to be born in 2023.

Many details of the exhibit are focused on the guest experience, with new restrooms, concessions and ADA-accessible pathways leading to the following areas within Scott African Grasslands: Kopje, Syd and Betty Cate Giraffe Herd Room, Hawkins Giraffe Encounter, Elephant Family Quarters, Truhlsen African Lodge, Kenefick Train Station, African Pygmy Goat Kraal, Columbian Mammoth Sculpture and Mammoth Plaza, Tenaska Pelican Lake Bridge, Cheetah Exhibit, Hawks Foundation Lion’s Pride & Habitat Viewing Area, Safari Tent Camp, Wildlife Management Headquarters, Sable Antelope Habitat and Bongo Habitat.

“The Omaha Zoo is such a treasure for our community and visitors. The Zoo’s creative staff delivers spectacular projects which transport us to other parts of the world, such as the African Grasslands,” said Howard Hawks, who has served on the Omaha Zoo and/or Omaha Zoo Foundation Board since 1984. The Hawks Foundation Lion’s Pride & Habitat Viewing Area bears his and wife Rhonda’s name. “It’s a pleasure to see the wonder and excitement on the faces of both young and old as they embrace the fun and adventure the Omaha Zoo brings to all.”

Scott African Grasslands

Suzanne and Walter Scott African Grasslands is named for major donors Walter Scott, Jr. (see page 20), and his wife, Suzanne (see page 24). Scott was CEO of Kiewit Corporation, which first became involved with the Zoo’s development in the early 1960s. The Scotts formed the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation in 1990 and had a long association with the Zoo.

Exhibit: Scott African Grasslands

The Suzanne and Walter Scott African Grasslands features numerous species, including the Zoo’s beloved elephant herd, along with panoramic views and plentiful amenities.

The Joy of Learning

The Bay Family’s Children’s Adventure Trails is an interactive exhibit that encourages learning through play in nature. It’s next door to the Robert B. Daugherty Education Center, which provides educational space and contains the Zoo’s high school, kindergarten and after-school programs.

“Gallup is proud to support the education center at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and aquarium for its focus on diversity, stem, conservation and the environment as it grows the next generation of leaders to support these critical needs – all while offering programming that honors each student and help them to stretch their mind and heart into their very bright future.”

~Jane Miller, President and CEO, Gallup

Exhibit: Bay Family Children’s Adventure Trails • Education Center

A better place to live

Mogens Bay serves Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium as Chairman of both the Zoo and foundation boards, crediting Walter Scott, Jr. (see page 20), who he called “the father of the modern Zoo,” for bringing him to board service. But Bay’s interest in the Zoo is also personal. He and wife Cindy have enjoyed visiting the Zoo with their family—children and grandchildren—for decades.

“We’d been Zoo patrons,” he said. “We always felt that the Zoo was a great attraction for Omaha… I know families who have memberships and they take their kids there sometimes weekly. There’s always something different to see at the Zoo.”

Mogens and Cindy Bay’s support of the Bay Family’s Children’s Adventure Trails, which opened in 2017, was a natural fit. Plus, this interactive exhibit that highlights learning through play in nature is adjacent to the Robert B. Daugherty Education Center (also opened in 2017), which provides educational space to more than 9,000 student visitors annually and contains the Zoo’s high school, kindergarten, preschool, and after-school programs.


“The Daugherty Foundation has been a big supporter of the Zoo for many years… (the late) Bob Daugherty always said. ‘I don’t look for recognition; I just look to do good.’ But sometimes it’s also appropriate to be recognized,” Bay said. “When the Omaha Zoo Foundation talked to Cindy and I about becoming sponsors of that, we readily agreed… it’s a very popular part of the Zoo now.”

Journey Eastward

The Asian Highlands exhibit features naturalistic settings and the highest level of animal care in landscape elements and indoor and outdoor management areas for a wide variety of species.

A high level of detail in Asian Highlands elements—realistic ancient ruins and settlements, colorful prayer flags, even a Nepali basecamp—enhances the setting for visitors.

Exhibit: Asian Highlands

Eastern expeditions

Asian Highlands represents a journey through Asia from Indian grasslands to Himalayan mountains. The immersive exhibit is set on a previously undeveloped eight acres and features a guest pathway totaling 1,850 feet (more than a quarter mile) with 750 feet dedicated to animal viewing areas.

The Asian Highlands exhibit features naturalistic settings like moving water and rock faces, and a wide variety of species including red pandas, Reeves muntjac, cranes, tufted deer, Père David’s deer, greater one-horned rhinos, sloth bears, Amur tigers, snow leopards, takins and gorals.


Like all the Zoo’s animal habitats, the Zoo’s mission to provide the highest level of animal care is seen in landscape elements such as rocks, trees, felled logs, water bodies, rolling terrain wallows, natural substrates and indoor and outdoor management areas in each area to simulate natural habitats and promote species-appropriate animal behavior and activity.

A high level of detail in Asian Highlands elements—realistic ancient ruins and settlements, colorful prayer flags, even a Yeti basecamp—enhances the setting for visitors. One area includes shady spots and seating areas along with modern amenities like restrooms, a food and beverage stand and a souvenir vendor cart.

Asian Highlands’s first phase opened in 2018 followed by the second phase in 2019. In 2020, USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice selected Asian Highlands at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium as the Best Zoo Exhibit in North America.

Beauty and the Barks

Sea, shore and sun

Owen Sea Lion Shores is the new (2020) one-acre home to the Zoo’s sea lions and harbor seals. The state-of-the-art habitat includes a 275,000-gallon pool with a 40-foot-long underwater viewing window, natural boundaries, an underwater kelp forest and sandy beach areas. A grand sea arch welcomes visitors to a realistic Pacific Northwest coastal setting.

Innovative facilities and enrichment features support optimal animal welfare from a recirculating saltwater filtration system heated or chilled according to season to a two-chamber wave machine that creates varied currents. The area also includes sunning sites and shade features, and a pupping beach that allows females to give birth on land and then gradually introduce their pups to the water in the same manner as in the wild. An island serves as a site for training areas for the animal care team and is also appealing to the animals.

The Owen name is present in several places throughout the Zoo, said Tyler Owen, who called the Sea Lion Shores “an absolute work of art.” His grandfather, Ed Owen, served the Zoo board and Omaha Zoological Society in decades past, and Ed and his wife Dee made a significant contribution to support the Sea Lion Pavilion dedicated in 1972. Owen said the Owen family was honored to continue his late grandparents’ legacy by supporting the new Sea Lion Shores.

“I believe our company—Paxton & Vierling Steel, Iron Works at the time—had been providing structural steel on what was the Riverview Park in the 1920s. My grandfather Ed was instrumental in procuring the original steam locomotive, and after a trip to Regent Zoo in London supported Doc’s (Dr. Lee Simmons) plan for rehabbing the original Riverview pool (transforming it for the sea lion exhibit) that had been discontinued during the 1938 polio epidemic,” Owen said. “He also supported through the Owen Gorilla House and Owen Flamingo Pool, and Lord knows how many other things. Ed liked to put his name on things!”


Exhibit: Owen Sea Lion Shores

A grand sea arch welcomes visitors to a realistic Pacific Northwest coastal setting at Owen Sea Lion Shores, the top-notch habitat has innovated facilities and enrichment features to support optimal animal welfare for the Zoo’s sea lions and harbor seals.

“Sea lion shores is an absolute work of art.”

~Tyler Owen, Owen Family

Petting Seas: Stingray Beach

The Zoo’s stingrays thrive in a 22,000-gallon, 75-foot-long saltwater pool with a state-of-the-art filtration system that ensures their health and well-being.

Just last year, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium unveiled Stingray Beach, home to about 45 stingrays and a unique interactive opportunity for visitors to touch and feed cownose, Southern and Atlantic stingrays inhabiting a 22,000-gallon, 75-foot-long saltwater pool. Its state-of-the-art filtration system ensures the health of the marine life, and plentiful hand-washing stations in the facility protect visitors and animals alike.

Petting seas.jpg

Stingray Beach replaced a former seasonal exhibit and its deeper tank has created a more comfortable environment for its inhabitants. The permanent quarters eliminate moving stingrays in and out of exhibit space and a holding area throughout the year, and Zoo guests can enjoy Stingray Beach all four seasons.

Stingray beach is home to about 45 stingrays and a unique interactive opportunity for visitors to touch and feed cownose, Southern and Atlantic stingrays.

Chris and Betsy Murphy were pleased to support the development of the event center, a difference-maker for the zoo that opened in the spring of 2021. It reflects the family’s multigenerational dedication to the zoo. 

Venue at the Zoo: Harper Event Center

The Harper Event Center is ideal for weddings, corporate affairs and private celebrations, with elegant and versatile indoor space and beautiful gardens surrounding the facility.

The Zoo’s newest venue, the Harper Event Center, features an expansive floor plan with lots of windows and an area that can open up to the outside. The facility can accommodate up to 350 guests and the covered patio allows for another 100, plus there’s an outdoor event lawn that can be used for additional reception space.

The Harper Event Center is ideal for weddings (rave reviews abound online), corporate affairs and private celebrations. The elegant and versatile indoor space includes a bride’s room and private access for catering, and is also fully wired for technology. Its gardens feature the 12 relocated Tanuki sculptures by Jun Kaneko.

Chris and Betsy Murphy said they were pleased to support the development of the event center, a ‘difference-maker’ for the Zoo that opened in the spring of 2021. It reflects the family’s multigenerational dedication to the Zoo.

“Betsy and I, and Betsy’s parents Mike and Josie Harper, had the pleasure to get to know Doc (Lee) Simmons and his lovely wife Marie over the years and just take in his passion for the Zoo and what it does for the community,” Chris Murphy said.

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-16.pdf.jpg

(Charles ‘Mike’ Harper was former chairman and CEO of Conagra Foods. He and wife Joan ‘Josie’ Harper, a former nurse, launched the Harper Family Foundation in the 1990s to create a legacy of giving.)

“Fast forward to getting reacquainted with Doc and also with Dennis Pate and understanding the current and future vision of the Zoo, we had the ability to react to that through the Harper Family Foundation, which just brought this all together. It’s not one item, it’s us having the opportunity and the pleasure to experience this treasured asset in the community, to be able in a very small way to help endear their vision so that other folks in our community and region can enjoy the same things that we did growing up.”

“My parents aren’t here now, but I know they would be very proud of the support the foundation has given,” Betsy Murphy said. “The Zoo is obviously very important for our community and the whole region, and it’s a wonderful learning tool for all ages.”

Murphy serves First Westroads Bank as Chairman and CEO. The bank and its employees also have a history of proudly supporting of the Zoo.

“First Westroads Bank, like most of our great businesses in the community, has been involved with the annual membership drive and we have employees who’ve been excited not only to volunteer, but to participate,” he said. “When we were celebrating our 50th anniversary we wanted to do something special for our employees and customers; what a way to align with a great asset in our community, the Zoo! So, we planned a celebration around that.”

Celebrating 125 years!

Two African elephant calves were born at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in January 2022: Eugenia, a female, on January 7, and Sonny, a male, on January 30. These are the first and only two African elephants born in Omaha and will be the only two African elephants born this year in the United States. They represent a new generation of possibilities for an African elephant population in desperate need of growth. They are critical pieces in a much larger plan of population sustainability and species conservation, as is the work of accredited zoos like Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

This work is vital as we work toward overall population growth instead of its current decline. Omaha’s Zoo and Aquarium set a course to assist African elephants in 2016 when we opened our current elephant habitat in the Scott African Grasslands. This effort was part of the master plan that came to completion in 2021.

The master plan transformed the Zoo into a park-like atmosphere with great homes for the animals, better viewing experiences and more educational opportunities.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is dedicated to the plan for population sustainability and species conversation. Our team is focused on many endangered species to ensure they will be part of the world for future generations. We have dedicated teams and breeding facilities for amphibians, cheetahs and tigers, and also focus on reproductive processes such as artificial insemination, to work toward this goal.

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-3.pdf.jpg

The historic birth of these two elephant calves—like every birth at the Zoo—represents every part of the Zoo’s mission: to inspire with historic first births and world-class immersive exhibits at our Zoo, to educate visitors about animals, and to engage the community in conservation efforts helping not only elephants, but all animals and their habitats.

When it comes to conservation, there is always more to do and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is committed to these efforts that encompass our mission.

We also know the people of Omaha consider us ‘their Zoo’ and we take that responsibility very seriously.

Thank you for supporting Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium!

Dennis Pate, President and CEO, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

View A Virtual Tour of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: APR/MAY 2022

Pages from metroMAGAZINE-APRMAY2022-4.pdf.jpg

A Virtual Tour of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

View A Virtual Tour of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: APR/MAY 2022