Riverbanks Zoo & Garden celebrates 50 year anniversary


COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – The Midlands has officially gotten to experience wildlife conservation and education for half a century!
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden celebrates 50 years of operation on Thursday.
To celebrate the Zoo’s birthday, guests can experience “A Wild Look Back” self-guided history tour when visiting on April 25, Riverbanks’ anniversary day. There will also be a DJ-hosted dance party with Riverbanks’ mascots and a sea of bubbles as well as a performance by the Dreher High School Steel Band.
Governor Henry McMaster announced he will join Zoo leaders on Friday to present a proclamation and tour the Aquarium and Reptile Conservation Center.
Opened in April 1974, Riverbanks has grown into one of the United States’ top mid-sized zoos with more than 1 million annual visitors. The Zoo houses over 3,000 animals, and the Botanical Garden features around 5,700 different plant species.
The Zoo has received numerous awards over the years including:
1975 : Conservation Organization of the Year by SC Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation
1977, 1985, 1986 : Most Outstanding Tax-Supported Attraction by SC Chamber of Commerce
1978, 1981, 1983, 1990, 2002 : Significant Achievement Award by Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
1981, 2002 : Governor’s Cup for South Carolina’s Most Outstanding Attraction by SC Chamber of Commerce
1982, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2011 : Edward H. Bean Award by AZA
1989, 1993, 2002 : Travel Attraction of the Year by Southeast Tourism Society
2002, 2003, 2012 : International Conservation Award by AZA
2004 : Education Award by AZA
2019: Sustainability Award by AZA
The Zoo also said it is a powerful economic engine with a $148.7 million impact in Richland and Lexington counties and 2,000 jobs throughout the Midlands. As the Zoo looks towards the future, they are taking steps to implement the “Bridge to the Wild” strategic plan.
The $172 million vision involved opening the immersive white rhino habitat in 2020, reimagining the Aquarium and Reptile Conservation Center in 2023, renovating the lion, tiger and baboon grottos, and expanding parking and transportation systems. A Komodo dragon breeding facility is also set to open in 2024.
The second phase of “Bridge to the Wild” includes plans to build the Jane B. Friedman Conservation Learning Center in 2025, create a shared-species habitat for orangutans and endangered primates, construct a Carousel Plaza and nature trail, refurbish the Zoo’s infrastructure, and build a multi-purpose facility on the Saluda River.
Richland and Lexington County Councils both passed the Zoo’s $80 million general obligation bond request for “Bridge to the Wild” in 2024, meaning the Zoo is poised to expand and improve for the next 50 years of guests.
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