A Minnesota Zoological Garden was established in 1969 and a State Zoological Board created to supervise and control it (Laws 1969 c868). Under this and subsequent legislation, "the board shall acquire, construct, equip, operate and maintain the Minnesota zoological garden....The zoological garden shall consist of adequate facilities and structures for the collection, habitation, preservation, care, exhibition, examination or study of wild and domestic animals..." (Minn. Stat. 84A.02 s2). The zoo specializes in active exhibits that imitate natural settings for the plants and animals of Minnesota, the northern hemisphere in general, and Asia. Prior to site selection, the board was required to prepare a comprehensive plan for site location and development within the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, and to submit it to the Metropolitan Council for consideration (Laws 1969 c868). The location of the zoo site on approximately 478.5 acres in Dakota County was confirmed in 1973 (Laws 1975 c382 s12). Earlier legislation had created building and general accounts for the Minnesota Zoological Garden in the state's general fund, and authorized the issuance of $23,025,000 in bonds to finance land acquisition, construction, and capital improvements, plus another $2,350,000 if matched by non-state contributions (Laws 1973 c207). Construction began in 1974, and the zoo was formally opened to the public in May, 1978.
The board appoints a professional zoo director, who operates and manages the zoological garden, enforces all board regulations and policy decisions, and serves as the board's executive director. The board is empowered to acquire land, including by eminent domain; accept or use gifts and grants from any source, as well as state appropriations; conduct or contract for research studies and programs, sale and concession facilities, and promotional activities; promulgate rules for both zoo management and the conduct of visitors; and acquire, breed, sell, and exchange animals (Minn. Stat. 85A.01-03). The Zoological Board initially reported annually to the commissioner of the Economic Development Department, who was to evaluate its activities and the zoological garden's operations and submit biennial reports thereon to the legislature. Since 1979 the board has submitted annual reports directly to the legislature (Laws 1979 c333 s75). The zoo's bonding, accounting, and related fiscal management are governed by Minnesota Statutes 85A.04-05 and the several laws cited thereunder. In 1977 the board was empowered to acquire "transportation systems, facilities and equipment that it determines will substantially enhance the public's opportunity to view, study or derive information concerning the animals to be located in the zoological garden, and will increase attendance at the garden" (Laws 1977 c455 s78). The funding, utility, and profitability of the monorail system built under this authorization was a controversial management issue for the next several years.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the zoo was assisted by two support groups. The Minnesota Zoological Society, a citizens' group, supplied volunteers and assisted in a variety of promotional activities and public programs. The Minnesota Zoological Garden Foundation, a non-profit corporation, assisted in fund-raising from private sources. The relationship between the Zoological Board and the Zoological Society was terminated in November, 1981. Funds raised by the Foundation are now (July 1984) administered through the St. Paul Foundation.