Now that the weather app is finally showing some good news you may be feeling like getting outside. Maybe take a walk on the wild side with a trip to the Minnesota Zoo.

Minnesotans who love the Minnesota Zoo because it gives them the chance to see and learn about animals may be surprised to learn that conservation is at the heart of what the Minnesota Zoo is all about.

Playing our Part for Minnesota’s Zoos

Minnesota’s three zoos receive a portion of every dollar played on lottery tickets through the Natural Resources Fund. This fund provides allocations for state parks and trails (DNR), metropolitan park and trail grants (Metropolitan Council), local trail grants (various non-metro local governments) and zoos (Minnesota Zoological Garden, Como Park & Conservatory and the Duluth Zoo).

Minnesota’s zoos may also apply for grants from the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENTRF). The Minnesota Zoo partnered with other organizations to use ENRTF grants to help conserve Minnesota’s native prairie butterflies, American bison herd, native mussels, turtles, and moose.

Minnesota Zoo Conservation Efforts

With its 10,000 lakes and winding rivers, dense woodlands and expansive prairie, Minnesota boasts an abundance of natural habitat supporting numerous species of wildlife. But many of these animals face an array of threats today, making their future uncertain.

Minnesota Zoo researchers lend their expertise to better understand what risks these species face and how we can act on their behalf. Through a variety of conservation projects, we engage communities on the vital role of each species to a healthy planet and encourage people to work together to save threatened wildlife.

The Zoo’s statewide conservation efforts extend from prairie bluffs, studying vanishing native butterflies, to the silty bottoms of lakes and rivers, investigating freshwater mussels and aquatic turtles. Throughout the state and across our varied landscapes, the Minnesota Zoo works to ensure a future where Minnesota’s wildlife thrive for generations to come. We are passionately committed to saving wildlife and the habitats they depend on. Wildlife conservation is at the heart of everything we do.


The Minnesota Zoo’s Prairie Butterfly Conservation Program aims to secure a future for our state’s most imperiled prairie butterflies. Today, only 1 percent of Minnesota’s original prairie remains and many species that depend on prairie ecosystems are at risk of disappearing.

The Minnesota Zoo works with many agencies and groups to save endangered butterflies like the Poweshiek skipperling and Dakota skipper. The Zoo is creating the world’s first rearing and breeding programs for these butterflies to help save them from extinction. By rearing these butterflies and releasing them back to the prairies they have vanished from, this program provides crucial work in the effort to save some of the most endangered butterfly species in the world.

The Prairie Butterfly Conservation Program has also connected with thousands of visitors and residents across the state through workshops and community events on the need for action to save Minnesota’s endangered butterflies and what individuals can do to help.

Photo Credit: Minnesota Zoo

Freshwater Mussels

Freshwater mussels are a key component to healthy waterways. Mussels filter harmful bacteria and other contaminants, acting as the “cleaners” of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers.

Today, however, mussels are the most at-risk group of animals in the United States. Pollution, dams, historical harvest, and invasive species have driven many mussel populations into dramatic decline. The Minnesota Zoo, in partnership with state and federal agencies, is working to reverse this trend and restore native mussel populations.

The freshwater mussel project focuses on research and development of effective rearing and release techniques with the goal of reestablishing threatened and endangered mussel populations in Minnesota to provide clean waterways, improve ecosystem health, and expand fish habitat. The freshwater mussel project also focuses efforts on outreach and education around endangered mussel species, engaging thousands of students and members of the public throughout the state.


As the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Minnesota boasts natural habitat for an abundance of aquatic wildlife, including several species of native freshwater turtles. Turtles provide many ecosystem services, keeping waterbodies clean and healthy by consuming decaying matter.

But Minnesota’s turtles are currently facing an array of threats, including habitat loss and degradation, road mortality, nest predation, and poaching. Two species of turtle, Blanding’s and wood turtles, are particularly vulnerable and listed as state threatened and globally endangered.

The Minnesota Zoo is partnering with other agencies across the state to better understand these threats and ways they can be mitigated. The freshwater turtle project collects foundational data on major threats such as road mortality and nest predation currently facing Minnesota’s endangered turtles. Through implementation and evaluation of various mitigation efforts including roadside fencing, nest protection, and rearing and release programs, this project aims to ensure the viability and health of Minnesota’s freshwater turtle population.

The freshwater turtle project also delivers educational outreach materials for both on- and off-site programming in order to share conservation messaging to Minnesota residents throughout the state.

Photo Credit: Minnesota Zoo

Ready to learn more? The Minnesota Zoo is open and ready to welcome you!