history of the zoo

In the spring of 1961, Robert E. Maytag, grandson of the founder of the Maytag appliance company, called a small group of friends together at his home to discuss the idea of building a zoo in the city of Phoenix.  The idea soon took off as Maytag and his “dedicated bunch of amateurs” proceeded to garner support from other Valley leaders.  The Arizona Zoological Society held its first meeting on April 27, 1961.

“It was a period of delightful, enthusiastic chaos,” recalled Nancy Maytag Love.  “We were absolute beginners.  We didn’t have any idea what we were getting into, but our enthusiasm and the certainty that we were building a great zoo carried us through every challenge we faced.”


Robert Maytag’s unexpected death from pneumonia in March of 1962 at age 38 was nearly the death knell for the zoo.  Even the staunchest zoo backers reeled under the blow.  Then Nancy Maytag stepped forward, declaring the zoo would be completed on schedule as a memorial to Bob.  It was the call to action the community needed.  Individuals, families, clubs and companies all came forward with help, giving wherever it was most needed.

“Build the Zoo in ’62!” began gracing buses, delivery trucks, moving vans, shopping carts, grocery bags and vacant buildings.  Family memberships were sold for $5.00 a year.  Every news reporter, station manager, and radio announcer was hit up for a promotional spot.  Social clubs, professional societies, auxiliaries, school groups, unions, sororities and fraternities all felt the pinch.

Finally, on November 21, 1962, Nancy Maytag cut the ribbon before a crowd of thousands, officially opening the Maytag Zoo, named in her husband’s honor.

With the name changed to the Phoenix Zoo in 1963 to encourage community involvement, the early years of the zoo continued to be a financial struggle.  Building the zoo was one thing; keeping it going was another.  After Nancy Maytag’s resignation from the Arizona Zoological Society, Earl L. Bimson, a banker, stepped forward to provide the zoo with the strong leadership and stability it needed for the next 13 years.  Often credited with saving the Phoenix Zoo during its early years of financial struggles, Earl Bimson successfully negotiated with creditors to restructure or forgive debts.  Due to his efforts, the zoo was in the black by 1965.

Other early supporters of the zoo included Eugene and Nina Pulliam, owners of Central Newspapers, Inc., including The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette.  Believing the young zoo needed great leadership to grow and thrive, the Pulliams paid the salary of the zoo’s director for five years as “an “anonymous friend of the zoo”.  Under the leadership of Eugene Pulliam, the state news media continued to follow the story of the Phoenix Zoo closely, keeping up public interest and noting with pride every zoo birth and every improvement at the facility.

Most gratifying of all, the community itself supported the zoo.  From the steady donations of money, goods, services, and labor there was only one conclusion to draw:  Robert Maytag’s original premise was true – that the people of Arizona wanted a world class zoo.

Originating with the ambitious vision of a dedicated philanthropist and other community leaders, the Phoenix Zoo has welcomed more than 43 million guests since 1962, fulfilling its mission of providing experiences that inspire people and motivate them to care for the natural world.  Beginning in 1962 with Operation Oryx, one of the world’s most successful global wildlife conservation programs, it has become world renowned for its contributions to the field of conservation science.  Today, more than 7,000 Arabian oryx exist world-wide, setting a precedent for subsequent successful Phoenix Zoo conservation initiatives involving Black-footed ferrets, Chiricahua leopard frogs, narrow-headed gartersnake, thick-billed parrots, Mexican wolves and many others.

Educational programming has also continued to grow in scope and reputation, beginning with the arts and crafts-based Summer Institute for Children in 1965, to today’s math and science-based ZooLab and Distance Learning programs offered through several Arizona school districts.

Born of a spirit of community and the efforts of small group of dedicated volunteers, and carefully nurtured through the support of millions, the Phoenix Zoo has enjoyed a truly remarkable first 50+ years.  With your continued support, our next 50 years will inspire millions more, connecting them with the natural world in new and fascinating ways.

Our Mission

Arizona Center for Nature Conservation advances the stewardship and conservation of animals and their habitats while providing experiences that inspire people and motivate them to care for the natural world.

Our vision

I am a leader in improving people’s lives through interaction with nature, excelling in conservation, education, exhibition and recreation.

core values

Our core values reflect the behaviors and attitudes that lead our interactions and decisions — helping us to achieve our mission. By following these core values we develop and foster positive relationships within our community, which will ensure the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation’s long-term success.

The Arizona Center for Nature Conservation

The Arizona Center for Nature Conservation does business as (dba) The Phoenix Zoo.

Non-Profit Tax ID # 86-0174843 The Phoenix Zoo is one of the largest private non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations in the country. We rely on admissions, concessions, memberships, special event and philanthropic donations for our daily operations.

Board of Trustees

annual reports

In 1962, the Phoenix Zoo opened its gates and the Arizona Zoological Society (AZS) has been the driving force behind the Zoo ever since, working purposefully behind the scenes, doing business as the Phoenix Zoo. AZS has quietly and successfully guided the Zoo for over half a century.

Recently, the Zoo and AZS took a hard look at how our conservation message is perceived. Through extensive research, we discovered that many people didn’t know the extent of our conservation work. Most of our conservation efforts reach far beyond the Zoo’s perimeter fence. In fact, since 2009, the Zoo has been involved with 85 conservation projects in 30 different countries! As a result of our research and through a collaborative process engaging many Zoo constituents, we have successfully changed the name of the Arizona Zoological Society to the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation (ACNC).

We have created new logos for both the Phoenix Zoo and the ACNC and have developed a new brand image campaign. We’ve worked on this for nearly a year and believe that our new brand will better reflect our overall mission and give people a set of expectations about what we are, why we are here and what we do. We believe that our world-class Zoo is strongly positioned to help lead the effort to assist in securing the future for wildlife and wild places worldwide.

I have long thought that, when we fail to emphasize our conservation work, we unintentionally reinforce the perception held by many that we are simply a recreational venue with a collection of animals. Our brand change is a major step toward our goal of replacing that perception. Our success in achieving that goal will be determined years from now, as the young people who visit our Zoo are inspired and motivated to care for the natural world. In addition to our branding efforts, we can gauge our impact on conservation with knowledge gained about animals and their environments through research funded by our conservation grants and other efforts.

What we do today creates a legacy for the future. We can rest easier, knowing that through our deliberate focus, animals throughout the world are being protected, wild places are being cared for and people’s lives are being changed forever because of the tireless work of the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation.



Norberto J. (Bert) Castro
President and CEO
Arizona Center for Nature Conservation/Phoenix Zoo

2020 annual report

Previous Annual Reports

financial documents