Countdown to 50 Wild Years

countdown clock

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden will celebrate 50 years on April 25, 2024!

Please join us as we countdown to this major milestone in Riverbanks’ history.

The years and the trails that blazed the way for South Carolina’s largest gated attraction — are layered with history, personality, and stories that yearn to be shared with the citizens of the Midlands and beyond.

Polar Bears in the South?

Riverbanks cared for polar bears for many years; as recently as 2001. At this point Riverbanks joined a number if zoos in the southern tier of the United States in sending the polar bears in their care to cooler climates to ensure a better quality of life for the animals. 

Out and About

Up until the early 1990s, Riverbanks' elephants were often allowed some time outside of their habitat before the park opened. The elephants are seen here walking through the Zoo with their keepers as they head down to the banks of the Saluda River.

Rooted in History

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden not only serves to protect rare and endangered wildlife and wild places, but also safeguards a number of South Carolina’s significant historical landmarks. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973, Riverbanks’ 170-acre site has a deep-rooted history dating back to the early 1800s with South Carolina’s textile industry and the Civil War. Today visitors can view structural remains that reveal this rich past from several vantage points within the Zoo and Garden.

Tall Tails

In honor of one of Riverbanks’ longtime residents, we are highlighting our long-neck friends on World Giraffe Day. Over the course of nearly 50 years, Riverbanks has been home to 40 individual giraffes, 26 of whom were born here in our care! The Zoo's first logo even depicted a giraffe, which was embroidered on staff uniforms.

Seas of Change

Today on World Ocean Day, we look back at our original Aquarium-Reptile Complex, which opened on November 11, 1989 and drew one million guests in the first year. Fast forward three decades, and thanks to the incredible generosity of The Boyd Foundation, the newly reimagined Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center is now a cutting-edge facility that brings our conservation efforts to the forefront of the guest experience. Be sure to visit to find out how you can help protect our ocean and waterways!

Before there was Riverbanks...

Contrary to popular belief, Riverbanks is not Columbia’s first (or second) zoo. Riverbanks was preceded by a small zoo in Columbia's Hyatt Park in the late 19th century, and then later another opened at Irwin Park, which operated into the early 20th century. Both zoos eventually closed, and Columbia would go nearly a half-century before becoming home to what is now considered one of the top zoos in the country. (Pictured below is Riverbanks approximately one year before its grand opening.)

49 and Feelin' Fine!

We have officially started our one-year countdown to 50 Wild Years at Riverbanks! Be sure to share your memories at Riverbanks by emailing and stay tuned for the exciting announcements to come! 

Kicking Off the Celebration

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden will turn 50 next year on April 25, 2024! Help us kickstart our celebration and share your favorite photos and memories by emailing throughout our year-long countdown!