History of Roger Williams Park Zoo

History of Roger Williams Park Zoo

A snapshot of a turn-of-the-century Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Roger Williams Park Zoo was among the first zoos in the nation, opening its first exhibits in 1872.

In 1986, Roger Williams Park Zoo became the first zoo in New England to earn accreditation from the Assocation of Zoos and Aquariums.

One of the first zoos to open in the United States, Roger Williams Park Zoo was founded in 1872 with a collection of small animal exhibits throughout Providence’s newly formed Roger Williams Park. Conservation and environmental education were unknown concepts at the time; the animals were simply on display.  Since then Roger Williams Park Zoo has grown both in terms of its exhibits and its mission.  What started as a scattered collection of small animals on display purely for the purpose of entertainment has today evolved into “New England’s great zoo” ( The Boston Globe) and one of our region’s foremost centers for conservation and environmental education.

Historical Timeline

Flutterby: Butterflies in Bloom” returns for another season. This summer-long special exhibit is an immersive experience inside a beautifully landscaped greenhouse filled with hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Designed to be a delight for both butterfly and gardening enthusiasts alike, Flutterby is a truly immersive experience where people of all ages can once again become enamored with nature and find a new appreciation for some of our earth’s most enchanting and imperiled species – butterflies, in bloom.

The new Outback Trail will take people over a rustic bridge, and through a path that runs right in the middle of the Zoo’s kangaroo and wallaby exhibit, allowing visitors to hop, skip, and jump among our three northern gray kangaroos, and over 10 of their smaller Bennett’s wallaby cousins.

The all-new Farmyard opening this summer has even more of the furry, wooly, and fluffy friends we all love. The Farmyard has a brand new walkthrough barn that is open to the public, and interactive features like a Contact Yard where people can touch and feed various farm animals. Animals included in the new Farmyard are several species of goats, Texel sheep, Guinea hogs, silver fox rabbits, a donkey, and more.

In November 2014, voters approved a bond issue that allocated $15 million to the Zoo for future improvements. It is expected that construction on the first project, a brand new Rainforest building, will be underway by early 2016. The bond monies will also support construction of a new education center with double the capacity of the existing building and then conversion of the old education building into New England’s first reptile house. In additional, as of January 2015, a Master Plan is in development to assure the Zoo will continue to exemplify best practices in animal care, conservation and environmental education for many years to come, and to improve the visitor experience.

The Zoo announced April as Tree Kangaroo Awareness Month to celebrate the opening of its new Matschie’s tree kangaroo exhibit in the Australasia building, making the new baby, Holly, visible to the public for the first time. The second phase of the Alex and Ani Farmyard will be open featuring the Farmhouse Stage, chickens and silver fox rabbits and additioanl interactive play opportunities.