The Dakota Zoo began with the 67 acre Marc and Betty Christianson Farm located at what was then the north edge of Bismarck. Initially, the Christianson Farm operated as a kennel for the boarding of domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, horses and, at one point, was even used to raise mink for profit. However, over time, friends and neighbors who knew the Christianson family and knew of their love for animals began stopping at the farm to deliver stray and/or injured animals with the knowledge that they would receive the care they required.
As the number of animals increased and word got out about the farm and its collection of animals, curiosity about the farm also increased drawing an ever increasing amount of visitors to the farm to view the animals. The number of visitors to the farm would peak on "skip day" each year when school buses would transport bus loads of school children to the farm to view the animals housed there.
Publicity by the Marshal Bill Show on KFYR played an important role in the formation of the Dakota Zoo. Petitions were signed by 780 people who supported the idea of a community Zoo located in Bismarck. Marc Christianson took these signed petitions to the Bismarck Park Board to present his idea of a Zoo. He pitched the concept of the Zoo as a community Zoo which would be self-supporting and would require no funding from the City of Bismarck. The case presented by Marc to the Park Board was such that in 1958, with the support of the late George Schaumberg, then the Bismarck Parks and Recreation director, the Park Board made available to the Zoo an 88 acre tract of Park District land in Sertoma Park.
Initially the majority of the construction work completed at the Zoo was done by Marc and his crews, using building materials which had been donated. However, there were some projects which could not be accomplished without the goodwill, trust and spirit of members of the community.