The history of the zoo can be traced back to the year 1948, when 3 monkeys, a goat and 2 black bears were purchased for $270 from a small road show stranded near Miami. These 6 animals were the beginning of the Crandon Park Zoo on the island of Key Biscayne, just southeast off the coast from downtown Miami. In 1965, Hurricane Betsy devastated the zoo and caused the death of 250 animals.
After the hurricane, Dade County officials applied for 600 acres of land in the Richmond Naval Air Station property on December 11, 1970. Construction began in 1975, and the grand opening of Asia, the first major exhibit, opened on December 12, 1981. A total of 38 exhibits, covering 200 acres, were available to the public. By 1987 the zoo had grown to over 1,200 animals, and was considered one of the top 25 zoos in the country