What We Fund...

...many of the Zoo’s most culturally and educationally relevant programs!. Our primary role is to support conservation, education, research and recreational programs that exceed the budgetary interests of the State of North Carolina, which focuses its funding on maintenance, visitor services and other operational basics and, in conjunction with the NC Zoo Society, contributes to the Zoo's capital development needs.

The Zoo Society’s generous donors and loyal members empower the Zoo to do more than exhibit animals well. Gifts from the Zoo Society position the North Carolina Zoo

  • to contribute nationally and internationally to wildlife conservation and research,
  • to advance standards and practices that promote the well-being of animals in zoos and in the wild, and
  • to inspire people everywhere to respect, explore, care about and connect with nature. 

The NC Zoo Society's Top Ten(ish) List of Fundraising Projects

For Capital Development

Ocelot Exhibit Expansion:  The Society is raising $500,000 to enlarge and improve the Zoo's existing Ocelot exhibit. The new exhibit will open up some outdoor space for the Ocelots and will make some timely adjustments to improve the Zoo's capacity to breed Ocelots—a species that is critically endangered in North America. The expanded exhibit will also improve the quality of life the Ocelots enjoy by providing structures that will entice the Ocelots to climb, play, and hide away when they need to rest.

Project: Polar Bears: We have almost reached our goal of raising $4.5 million to expand and upgrade the Zoo’s existing Polar Bear exhibit. These funds will help complete this $7 million construction project, which will reconfigure the exhibit to comply with the latest welfare standards for Polar Bears. The changes will also provide the infrastructure needed to launch a Polar Bear breeding program and vastly improve the exhibit's educational offerings.  Sponsorship opportunities are available for many components of the new facility.

For the Animals

Veterinary Residency Program: The North Carolina Zoo, in cooperation with the NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine, manages a three-year residency in zoological medicine, the veterinary specialty associated with the care of non-domestic species. The program, which admits one resident each year, offers top-tier training to veterinarians who will become world leaders in protecting the health of both captive and wild exotic animals. The NC Zoo Society contributes $30,000 a year to support this training program.

The Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center: The Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center provides free veterinary and rehabilitation services to orphaned and injured native North Carolina animals that people bring to the Zoo for treatment. The Center also provides significant training opportunities to residents, interns and other students who work or volunteer at the Center while they pursue careers in biology or veterinary medicine. Funds raised through donations to the Zoo Society provide half of the money needed to operate the Center.

Animal Enrichment Programs: The Zoo’s animal enrichment programs serve the psychological and physical well-being of the Zoo’s animals by providing them with complex, changing and appropriate environments and social settings that encourage play, foraging and other natural  behaviors. Donations from  Zoo Society members and donors provide all of the funds to operate these programs.  

Collection Resources: The NC Zoo Society is fully responsible for many of the expenses the North Carolina Zoo must shoulder to transport, acquire and manage its collection animals. Donors make it possible for the Zoo to maintain its animal collections and provide for their welfare needs.

Wild Welfare: The NC Zoo helps coordinate efforts to improve the care of animals in some of the world's poorest zoos. Funding provides training, veterinary care and support to help animals being held in poor conditions.

For Conservation and Research

Cameroon Elephant Conservation Project: The project, led by NC Zoo Chief Veterinarian Dr. Mike Loomis, uses satellite-tracking technology to reduce aggressive interactions between people and elephants.  By documenting elephant land use patterns and involving local people in the conservation programs, this NC Zoo elephant project has significantly reduced human injuries and deaths as well as agricultural losses that result from elephant encounters and, consequently, have also significantly reduced the numbers of elephants killed each year by poachers or as nuisance animals. This project is fully funded by donations to the NC Zoo Society. 

Cross River Gorillas & Working Dogs for Conservation:  The project builds the capacity of native biologists working to protect the Cross River Gorilla, a species thought to be extinct until a small population was rediscovered in the 1980s. Now listed among the top 25 most endangered primates, the Zoo is a leading partner in efforts to rescue this primate from extinction. Current estimates suggest that only 250 - 350 Cross River Gorillas remain. The program is fully funded by gifts to the NC Zoo Society. This project is led by Dr. Rich Bergl, the NC Zoo's Curator of Conservation and Research and a leading authority on this primate.    A phase of this conservation project requires the help of carefully scent-trained dogs to locate the dung and resting place of the few remaining Gorillas. The dogs allow the collection of DNA samples for population studies and identify land areas that require protection. This phase of the Cross River Gorilla Conservation Project is fully funded through donations to the NC Zoo Society.

Conservation Medicine Program: Donations to the Zoo Society fully fund the Veterinary Staff’s Conservation Medicine Program, which carries out research, provides training and purchases equipment related to the medical needs of rare and endangered species. This program focuses considerable effort on helping the Puerto Rican Crested Toad, a critically endangered species. This toad survives in only two small areas in Puerto Rico. The Veterinary Staff is addressing disease processes that have harmed the toad’s captive populations.

Polar Bears International: The North Carolina Zoo is an official Arctic Ambassador Affiliate of Polar Bears International. This nonprofit underwrites research and education programs that protect Polar Bears and their habitats. Polar Bears International provides scientific resources and information on Polar Bears and funds most of the major studies conducted on the species.

Red Wolf Breeding and Reintroduction: The Zoo Society funded the construction of off-exhibit breeding and reintroduction facilities for the Red Wolf, North America’s most endangered dog species and an animal that was once extinct in the wild. The Zoo maintains a colony of Red Wolves as part of the overall Red Wolf conservation  program. Several wolves from the Zoo have been reintroduced to the wild and roam free in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Hellbenders are large Salamanders that bear the affectionate nickname of “snot otters”. The name alludes to a slimy mucus that coats their skin, especially when they are stressed. Like other amphibians, many hellbender populations are experiencing steep declines. Some populations have fallen by 77 percent or more. The NC Zoo's former Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles, John Groves, a leading authority on Hellbenders, has partnered with the NC Wildlife Research Commission to study and protect the Appalachian Hellbenders population.

Box Turtle Project: The Zoo Society cooperates with the Box Turtle Conservation Workshop Committee to collect funds for the Lucille R. Stickel Box Turtle Research Award. Funds donated to the award are used to support research that contributes to the survival of wild box turtles, and so, continues the life's work of Lucille Stickel, a biologist who died in 2007.

Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park:
The NC Zoo Society and Sylvan Heights have had a relationship since 1994, when the North Carolina Zoo requested Zoo Society help in supporting Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Society, a world-renowned breeding facility for rare and endangered waterfowl. Because of contributions raised by NC Zoo Society staff, particularly Cheryl Turner, formerly the Director of Development and now the Executive Director, the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Society expanded to include a recreational park that exhibits the largest collection of duck, geese and swan species in the United States.

For Learning and Living

UNITE - The North Carolina Zoo’s UNITE conservation education and teacher training project in Uganda has been operating in the villages around Kibale National Park for almost ten years.  UNITE promotes environmentally sound attitudes, knowledge and skills in native people by supporting local environmental and conservation education efforts. UNITE provides teachers with the tools and resources to teach about wildlife and resource conservation and maintains a full-time educator in Uganda to work with over 100 teachers in 10 local schools.

Art Programs and Acquisitions
: These efforts expand the Zoo’s educational impact through a visiting artist program and the development and maintenance of one of the state’s most valuable and vast public art collections. To date, private donations to the NC Zoo Society has installed public artworks valued at more than $2 million.

Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Learning Center: Built and funded by donations to the NC Zoo Society, the Schindler Learning Center provides affordable accommodations for college and university students participating in apprenticeships, internships and residencies at the Zoo. The Center also houses visiting artists, campers, scholars and other people engaged in work or study that advances the Zoo’s missions in conservation, education, recreation and research.

Field Trip Earth:
Funded entirely through donations to the Zoo Society, this award-winning website, launched in 2002, serves K-12 classrooms by linking them, via the Web to conservation researchers and providing supportive teaching materials tied to the North Carolina Course of Study. Today the website serves  classrooms in all 50 United States and in more than 140 countries. More than 100 authors have contributed articles, photos, videos and a variety of other resources to tell  their stories of working on various research projects around the world. These  “field trips” include elephant research in Cameroon, red wolf recovery in  northeastern North Carolina, peregrine falcon reintroduction in Minnesota,  Mexican wolf recovery in New Mexico and Arizona, and many other programs.
     In 2009, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) named Field Trip  Earth (www.fieldtripearth.org) a “Landmark Website for Education”, a distinction  it shares with twenty other sites including GoogleEarth, the Smithsonian, the  Library of Congress, and NASA.

Keepers in the Classroom
: This program, which is funded exclusively by donations to the NC Zoo Society, educates and inspires by sending zookeepers and other zoo professionals into classrooms to teach students and mentor them if they choose to complete environmental projects that benefit their schools. Keeper mentored programs have engaged students in creating butterfly-attraction gardens and hiking trails and in organizing environmental field-days and work projects.

kidzone is a Zoo exhibit where children play. It  provides a safe, reliable place for children to explore nature, connect with bugs and plants, develop empathy for animals and people, and enjoy everything under the Sun.
     This exhibit houses a building, the RTI International Training and Research Center for Children and Nature. This facility is a centerpiece for the Zoo’s growing profession training programs in Playful Pedagogy.

Smart Carts:
Smart Carts are small, hands-on learning stations that are packed with interesting biological specimens and staffed by enthusiastic staff and volunteers who are eager to share their knowledge of the Zoo and its animals. These stations, which are funded primarily by gifts to the Zoo Society, reach out to the Zoo’s 750,000 annual visitors, helping them gain greater understanding.

For Animal Welfare

The Kendall Project: This keeper directed project, which is funded exclusively by donations, rescues Great Apes from unnatural and unsuitable situations, such as, where they are confined as pets or "actors" for the entertainment industry. The Kendall Project moves rescued animals to appropriate retirement settings that provide for the animals’ physical, psychological and social well-being.  The Kendall Project also funds educational initiatives that advocate for the humane treatment of these animals.  

For Plants and Beauty

The Zoo’s plants define the animals’ habitats, beautify the landscape, buffer the exhibits, provide shelter and shade for animals and visitors and create a setting that seems more like a park than a zoo. These plants, and the Zoo’s endangered plant programs and greenhouses, depend on Zoo Society donors and supporters to fund their needs.

For the World 

Afghanistan Zoo Restoration:  This program is currently retired. Donations to the NC Zoo Society helped secure food, water, fuel and veterinary care for Kabul Zoo’s animals immediately after the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

Bagdad Zoo ReliefThis program is currently retired. Funds donated to the NC Zoo Society provided staff training and animal welfare initiatives to help the Baghdad Zoo after the 2003 invasion.

Egyptian Zoo Development
:  This program provides funds to improve the Cairo Zoo’s exhibits and train its staff.

For Our Neighbors

Pisgah Covered Bridge Restoration and Park: This program is currently retired. The Pisgah Covered Bridge is a Randolph County historical and cultural treasure. It is one of only two surviving covered bridges in the state and the only one that is easily accessible by the public. Donations to the Zoo Society's fund permitted repairs to the bridge, the walkway and the small community park that serves tourists visiting the Pisgah Cover Bridge.


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