A Brief History of Chahinkapa Zoo

In the northeast corner of Wahpeton, North Dakota, a park lies along the banks of the Red River of the North. This natural setting is a veritable paradise for song birds, waterfowl and wildlife. The early Native American Settlers name the site "Chahinkapa", meaning "end of the woods". It was favorite meeting place for the Indians who established summer camps for bison hunting. Two rivers (Bois de Sioux and Ottertail) joined her to form the Red River at the spot where the Minnesota timber land ended and the grassy plains of Dakota began.
  • In 1903, Wahpeton purchased the land from the federal government. Thirty years later the first Park Board was established under the direction of R.J. Hughes, known as the founder of Chahinkapa Park. The Chahinkapa Zoo was also established at this time with modest animal displays.
  • In the later 60's, the zoo was moved from a small oxbow to its present 18 acre location at the north end of Chahinkapa Park. The Chahinkapa Zoo Association was formed in 1974 to develop a plan for renovation and improvements. In 1984, a five-year master plan was developed, emphasizing a "clean and green" theme, incorporating a broad based of community support.
  • The Rodger Ehnstrom Nature Center was dedicated in 1989, the hub of all zoo education.
  • The first Zoo Director was hired in 1994.
  • In 1995 the Chahinkapa Zoo was accredited by the AZA (American Zoo and Aquarium Association), following a 1994 IMLS General Operating Grant which helped achieve acreditation standards.
  • In April of 1997, flood waters inundated the Red River Valley, including the Chahinkapa Zoo. All animals were safely evacuated. Thanks to hundreds of volunteers, the zoo reopened to the public on May 24, 1997.
  • In the fall of 1997 a $2 million dollar levee project was constructed along the river to protect the zoo and the north side of Wahpeton from 500 yearflood levels. The zoo was re-built with new exhibits, pathways and a petting zoo.
  • 2000- The Zoo was accredited by the AZA for a second term.
  • The Chahinkapa Zoo received a GOS grant from IMLS in 2002.
  • 2003-2004 Chahinkapa Zoo received a MAP Grant.
  • 2005- the zoo was accredited for a third term by the AZA.
  • 2008 - Construction began for the orangutan habitat to be completed by 2010.
  • 2010- Chahinkapa Zoo is home to over 200 animals representing 70 species
  • The zoo was accredited by the AZA for a fourth term in 2010.
  • 2011- Chahinkapa Zoo became the first zoo in North Dakota to exhibit a great ape species by opening the Orangtuan Habitat Exhibit bringing awareness of this magnificent species to thousands of people.
  • 2013-Chahinkapa Zoo is home to 70 species representing 6 continents and over 200 animals. 
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Chahinkapa Zoo's Mission

Wildlife Education, Environmental Conservation, and Family Recreation.

The Chahinkapa Zoo seeks to accomplish its mission by the following:

  • EDUCATION- Presenting educational programs and providing interpretive information throughout the zoo grounds and Rodger Ehnstrom Nature Center to enhance understanding and respect for wildlife. Conservation through education.
  • ANIMAL CARE- Providing high quality animal care and serving as a wildlife rehabilitation center.
  • EXHIBITS- Developing a safe, natural and healthy habitat for each species.
  • COLLECTION- Providing our visitors with a clean, green and natural setting where they may view native North Dakota wildlife, animals from around the world and selected endangered species.
  • FACILITIES AND COLLECTION STAFF- Offering a quality experience in a friendly atmosphere at reasonable prices.