Since 1912, South Dakotans and visitors have had the chance to “come closer” to over 600 animals representing 130 species from around the world at the Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown. Zoo director Dan Miller, who has been there for 33 years, gave me, along with Katherine Danforth of the Watertown Convention & Visitors Bureau, a behind-the-scenes-look at the popular attraction.

“The missions of Bramble Park Zoo is to come closer to the natural world around us,” said Miller. “We allow our guests the opportunity to come face to face with tigers, snow leopards, lemurs, monkeys, birds, fish, and reptiles.”

We met him right outside of the entrance, which has offices, indoor exhibits, the gift shop, and the Terry Redlin Environmental Center. Built in 2003, the center houses fish tanks, two educational classrooms, and the Upper Big Sioux Watershed Program

“The Upper Big Sioux Watershed Program improves water quality through a cost share program with area landowners,” said Miller. 

The center is named after the late Watertown artist Terry Redlin, who was an American artist known for outdoor themes and wildlife. Watertown is also home to the Redlin Art Center with a vast collection of his works. 

“Terry Redlin’s vision was to create a center where people of all ages could view native animals and educate youth about our local water environment,” said Miller. “Terry also wanted to develop a program to improve water quality.” 

Miller showed us the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)-accredited zoo via golf cart, and we stopped along the way to visit with students attending zoo classes and with different staff working the exhibits. He told us there are only 240 locations with the AZA accreditation in the world. 

LAZS Membershiup

Become a member of the Lake Area Zoological Society. This provides members and their family with an Animal Express Card with special privileges and an invite to the annual LAZS Picnic on August 9. Tiers include an Individual Membership ($55), a Family Membership ($99), a Grandparent Membership ($99), a Donor Membership ($150), and a Sustaining Membership ($225). 

The zoo is also home to the largest collection of De Brazza’s Monkeys, and we braked the cart to watch them lounge. Next were the Black-and-White Colobus Monkeys, who were just getting a snack from staff. 

Miller quizzed us, “Know why their hair is so long? So it helps them glide in the air as they leap.” 

After some more monkey time, we drove to a “staff only” door. Miller told us to go ahead, and Danforth and I proceeded inside to find a zoo staff member with two black bears in the near distance in a holding cell. It was almost feeding time, and they surprised us by letting us step around the inside of their outdoor exhibit before the bears were released back in to feed. 

We then got to see the door slide open and the two bears pranced in to eat; one to a picnic table and the other to a spot in the shade. 

“Isn’t that something else,” said Miller as we hopped back in to tell him about our experience. 

To showcase how family friendly the zoo is, we swung by the KidZoo Complex with a large barn, a petting zoo, and playsets. 

“The KidZoo is an area where visitors come face to face and feed farm animals,” said Miller. “There are many farm implements, natural play structures, an artificial milking cow, a slide hill, a windmill, and areas to play in. We also train volunteers, zoo crew, and interns in this area.” 

Come Closer

Here is a teaser of more things to see at the Bramble Park Zoo:


Chilean Rose-Haired Tarantula

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches


African Cichlids



Leopard Frogs

Tiger Salamanders


African Pancake Tortoises

American Alligators


Blue & Gold Macaws

Yellow-Naped Amazon


American Bison

North American River Otters

Food Truck Festival

Attend the inaugural Food Truck Festival at the Bramble Park Zoo on July 24 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Enjoy food trucks around the zoo and entertainment on the main stage by JAIK

Danforth and I had the chance to meet the KidZoo yak, and we may or may not have snapped a few selfies with it. 

Other zoo tour highlights included feeding a camel and getting up close to a sloth. As we pulled up back to the entrance, and before Miller had to make it to his next appointment, he mentioned being proud of what they’re doing and for the staff surrounding him. 

He said, “I’m just very thankful for my Bramble Park Zoo team for being a major tourist attraction and all their hard work to achieve AZA accreditation.” 

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