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Hamilton Zoo started its life as Hilldale Game Farm in 1969 under the ownership of Mr and Mrs Powell. They mainly raised game birds for the Acclimatisation Society, although there was also a small collection of exotic mammals and birds for viewing. 

The 1960s and early 1970s saw a peak in the creation of new zoos throughout most western countries. In Britain three quarters of zoos date from this era. Hilldale was one of this generation's small traditional zoos, which after a number of years found it difficult competing with an increasing variety of other recreational attractions.

In 1976 Hamilton City Council stepped in to assist the zoo financially and bought the 14-hectare site, buildings and stock, and appointed a Zoological Trust to run the enterprise. 

Closure for the zoo looked imminent, but in April 1984 Council resolved to continue its operation in response to a large public petition. The Department of Recreation and Welfare took over Hilldale's management. 

Later it was recognised that a clear direction was needed for the zoo to continue. A concept plan was drawn up and as a result of this the Zoo Education Centre opened in 1987. The concept plan also saw the upgrading of zoo facilities with new exhibits, paved paths, boardwalks and intense planting. 

To provide better leadership, the position of Zoo Director was created in 1989. 

Over time there have been more changes and now there are over 25 people working at Hamilton Zoo.