In July of 2020, we invited our community to join the Force for Nature movement. We challenged donors to double their giving and invited Minnesota Zoo enthusiasts across the state to support the important work of the Zoo during extraordinary times. We didn’t know what response to expect in a year when so much was unexpected. We were completely humbled by the encouragement and generosity of donors like you. From a record-breaking virtual Beastly Bash to the inaugural Minnesota Zoo Giving Day – your generosity was remarkable.

Despite the changes and challenges in fiscal year 2021, the Minnesota Zoo continued to provide exceptional animal care, prioritize safety for humans and animals, and deliver services to Minnesotans in new and innovative ways. But we couldn’t have done it without you. New virtual content and events like Nature Illuminated, safe in-person experiences, continued conservation work – you helped make it all possible this year.

Thank you for supporting our hardworking staff and volunteers who have stayed true to the Minnesota Zoo’s mission throughout the pandemic to connect people, animals, and the natural world to save wildlife. We are forever grateful for the dedication our supporters, board members, volunteers, and employees have demonstrated through it all. We cannot wait to see you at the Zoo again soon.

John Frawley
Director, Minnesota Zoo
President, Minnesota Zoo Foundation

Aimée Dayhoff
Chair, Minnesota Zoo Foundation Board

“Cargill is proud to support the Minnesota Zoo in a variety of ways. The Cargill Foundation had the honor to support the construction of an early childhood preschool at the Zoo Farm, helping inspire the next generation of agriculture professionals. Additionally, Cargill’s Salt business has a longstanding partnership with the Zoo volunteering and providing salt for the salinization of the pool and tanks for animals who need that resource. Whether its monetary donations, volunteer hours or product donations we are excited to continue working with the Minnesota Zoo so our community can learn about and enjoy the animals.”

- Jennifer Shomenta, Managing Director of Cargill Global Edible Oil Solutions’ business in North America


Wolverines once thrived in Minnesota and other parts of the Midwest, but hunting, habitat loss, and lack of prey pushed them to near extinction in the 1900s. It’s now estimated that there are just 300 to 1,000 wolverines living in the Lower 48, and they’re only found in 12 American zoos.

To make things more difficult, wolverines are tricky to breed in human care. “They’re very secretive animals and they just don’t like to be watched when they’re trying to breed,” says Laurie Trechsel, assistant curator.

But perhaps their luck is about to change. In January 2020, a pair of female kits was born at the Minnesota Zoo! The parents are the only successful mating pair of wolverines in human care in the United States.

The Zoo hopes to have found the key to mating the animals: giving the pair the privacy they need in a private half-acre enclosure and limiting human contact. Six other zoos across the country have recently received mating pairs from Europe, and the Minnesota Zoo has shared with them its findings and practices. Although no other pairs have successfully mated yet, the Zoo hopes to breed future offspring with the Minnesota kits to maintain a genetically diverse population.

For now, the two kits are exploring their habitat on the Minnesota Trail and are often seen “playing and rolling around like puppy dogs,” says Laurie.

"We each joined the Minnesota Zoo before we met because we both love the animals and all of the conservation efforts the Zoo is involved with.  Over the years, we've watched the Zoo grow, change, and continue to innovate and educate to keep a strong connection between people and wildlife. We enjoy the Zoo so much that we got married by the Tropics Trail with the howler monkeys adding their voices to our ceremony! (And life's been a barrel of monkeys ever since.)"

-Karen Knott and Soni Olson, Director’s Circle Donors


Coming off the heels of the onset of the pandemic, newly hired Director of Animal Health Dr. Taylor Yaw was tasked with rebuilding the veterinary team. His goal? To increase available resources, elevate the Zoo’s brand within the veterinary field, and create more stability in his department. His solution? To hire the Zoo’s first ever veterinary intern.

To get a zoo veterinarian job, it’s becoming more typical that graduates must have advanced training, however, opportunities are limited with only around 25 internships offered each year nationwide. But zoo veterinarians value education and are dedicated to training the next generation. By adding an internship program to the animal health department, Dr. Yaw knew that he would be able to attract both prospective interns and veterinary job candidates.

First, he needed to create a solid internship program, which meant he needed at least one boarded veterinarian on staff. But only 21% of zoo veterinarians are boarded in the zoological community, so the Zoo was up against stiff competition. Using the internship as a recruiting tool, the Minnesota Zoo was able to attract and hire its — and the state’s — first boarded veterinarian, Dr. Anne Rivas. Only four months later, the Zoo hired its second zoo boarded veterinarian, Dr. Lily Parkinson. And just recently, Dr. Yaw became the third boarded Minnesota Zoo veterinarian.

Due to hiring limitations at the state level during the pandemic, the Zoo was unable to hire for any internship positions. But because of generous donor support, the Minnesota Zoo Foundation was able to hire the veterinary intern for the animal health team.

“We’re so grateful that the Foundation was able to step in during the pandemic. The internship was one of the early major wins our team had and allowed for recruitment of a truly amazing veterinary team,” says Dr. Yaw. “The internship assists with our heavy medical caseload, but it’s also key to meeting our mission. I have no doubt that our veterinary interns will go on to advance animal care and welfare and assist with wildlife conservation in the future.”

"There are so many great reasons to support the Minnesota Zoo!  For me, it’s the animals, conservation, and education.

The Zoo provides outstanding care for all the animals, as well as so many opportunities for the public to learn about wildlife and nature, and for them to see how the Zoo is actively working to conserve wildlife here in Minnesota and around the world.

Being a volunteer gives me another way to actively help the Zoo achieve its mission.  By telling the stories about our animals, I am hopeful it will spark in our guests a deeper appreciation and interest to save wildlife and connect with nature."

-Natalie Stephens, Friends of the Minnesota Zoo Donor, Circle of Life Donor, Volunteer


When the global pandemic shut down the Minnesota Zoo and its programming in November of 2020, the Zoo created Nature Illuminated, an innovative winter event that safely engaged visitors and connected people to the importance of wildlife conservation. 

Nature Illuminated safely and comfortably transported more than 80,000 guests into a world of “animals, art and awe” as a unique drive-thru experience. The Zoo partnered with local company Landmark Creations to create thirty larger-than-life custom-designed animal inflatables to be beautifully lit against the winter evening sky.

It was important to the Zoo that they keep their mission of connecting people, animals and the natural world to save wildlife at the forefront when designing Nature Illuminated. Animals were carefully selected and represented imperiled and beloved species across the world. As visitors drove through the trail, they listened to an entertaining and educational audio tour that highlighted conservation issues and success stories.

Under extreme conditions and during one of the Zoo’s most challenging years, staff put a new event together in a matter of months and made it possible for people to safely enjoy Zoo programming again. Most importantly, people of all ages connected more deeply with animals and the natural world and became bigger allies for wildlife conservation efforts.


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