Quality of Life Grantee Spotlight: Zoo Boise

A visit to the local zoo is a beloved American activity, offering a fun and educational experience for the whole family. Zoos provide a close-up look at animals most people might never see.

zoo boise

“Going to the zoo is a shared experience, a time for a family to relax and bond,” says Jennifer Miller, annual campaign and grant coordinator for Friends of Zoo Boise. “Families want to be able to travel through the exhibits together, but access issues can cause some members to be left out.”

Located in a city park along the Boise River, the 17-acre Zoo Boise is home to over 300 animals from approximately 90 species. With more than 340,000 visitors annually, Zoo Boise is one of the largest attractions in the state of Idaho.

“No other zoo serves guests from southwestern and south-central Idaho,” says Miller. “The nearest major zoos are more than 400 miles away in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland, Oregon. There are two smaller zoos in eastern Idaho, requiring a drive of four hours from Boise.”

In 2019, Zoo Boise opened a new 2.75-acre exhibit featuring animals found in Gorongosa National Park in eastern Africa that is fully accessible to the public. However, some older nearby exhibits are not.

“The grassy field that is home to three nyala, a spiral-horned and mid-sized antelope from Africa, and a hornbill, a three-foot tall African ground bird, only offered ground-level viewing below the grade of the path,” says Miller. “The low elevation and surrounding vegetation meant guests using wheelchairs could not view the animals.”

After hearing about the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grants from colleagues at other zoos, Miller applied in 2021, and the zoo received a $18,657 direct effect grant used to build an elevated platform with ramp access and a new viewing window into the nyala yard.

“Now a whole family group, up to 10 people, can travel through the exhibit and view the animals together,” says Miller. “The nyala antelope are wild animals and move around the exhibit. The new platform allows all visitors to see the whole outdoor area and far into the spaces where the animals may eat or rest.”

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Guests surveyed before the platform installation rated the exhibit a 2.9 on a five-point scale, with one being low and five being high. The rating increased to 4.8 after the installation.

“This was a clear improvement in the ability of guests living with paralysis to see the animals,” says Miller. “It is amazing how one small investment can make such a big difference to the experience. The new platform has changed the activity in an area that was once quiet and is now full of activity.”

One caretaker who brings a group to the zoo each summer stated, “Before, they couldn't see the animals. This is so much better. I’m glad to hear the zoo is making more of these changes.”

Since the nyala project was completed, it started a ripple effect to continue to improve the surrounding area. A large viewing window extending to the ground was installed in a nearby wooden fence, allowing visitors to see into the exhibit at all levels. In another area of the zoo, work is underway to install a giraffe feeding platform.

“All the positive feedback from the new nyala platform really got the team thinking more broadly about access and the range of easy fixes we could make to improve accessibility,” says Miller. “We have learned some interesting things from this project. Perhaps, most importantly, it has expanded our conversations with zoo visitors to better understand how to meet their needs.”

To learn more about our Quality of Life Grants Program, click here

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to information@christopherreeve.org

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.