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The Best Zoos in Your Neck of the Woods

Red Panda taking a nap at the Zoo.

When is the last time you’ve been to the zoo? There are an estimated 2,800 zoos around the world and more than 355 right here in the United States! There’s no easier way to come face-to-face with so many species in God’s creation than a visit to the zoo.

And no two zoos are alike! For National Zoo Lovers Day, we’re highlighting special features at several zoos in each region of the country. Pull out your map and make a plan to visit a zoo near you (or far away from you!) today!

The West

Eye of the Tiger at the Denver Zoo. Image by Blake Meyer

Denver Zoo

Located in the Mile High City, the Denver Zoo has called other zoos to new heights by being the first zoo in America to feature naturalistic habitats for animals instead of cages and bars. When the zoo acquired its first bear, it triggered the construction of Bear Mountain. Today, Harmony Hill Bear Habitat is home to the park’s resident grizzly bear, Tundra, and features plenty of room for Tundra to dig, build a den, climb, swim, and sunbathe, as well as lots of immersive experiences for human visitors. The original construction of Bear Mountain was followed by the Primate Panorama exhibit, a habitat offering primates enormous open tents made of mesh. Primate Panorama spans seven of the park’s 84 acres and is home to various species of lemurs, monkeys, and apes. 

Over its 125-year history, the Denver Zoo has evolved from an entertainment attraction featuring a few animals in cages, to become a leader in habitation development and animal welfare. Today, the zoo is home to over 3,000 species and leads conservation efforts around the globe, supporting over 600 research and conservation projects in 60 countries. 

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

As one of the premier zoos in the region, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo overlooks Colorado Springs. It has made significant improvements and renovations to 14 areas of the park since the implementation of its Master Plan in 1989, raising over $30 million to replace or repair outdated exhibits and facilities.The zoo has earned accolades from USA Today and Trip Advisor and has been featured in lists of the top ten zoos in North America several years in a row. It is perhaps best known for its native species exhibit, Rocky Mountain Wild, which showcases Colorado’s wildlife in its natural setting.

The East

Two Gray Elephants. Image by Paul Griffiths

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium just west of central Columbus, Ohio, is home to 10,000 animals who live in exhibits divided into six world regions—Australia and the Islands, Congo Expedition, Shores, Asia Quest, North America, and Heart of Africa. Jack Hanna, the zoo’s former director emeritus and retired zookeeper, called Columbus Zoo home for 42 years. In addition to the zoo and aquarium, guests can also access the 18-hole Safari Golf Club, Zoombezi Bay waterpark, and The Wilds, an enormous conservation project consisting of more than 9,000 acres of land gifted to the Hannas from the Central Ohio Coal Company, a subsidiary of American Electric Power Company. The Wilds has been transformed from a barren, strip-mined land into a lush savannah through over 40 years of conservation work.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo carries the accolade of being America’s First Zoo. The Zoological Society of Philadelphia had its charter approved in 1859 but due to the Civil War, America’s First Zoo didn’t open its doors until 1874. In addition to being the first zoo in America, Philadelphia Zoo is also home to the first-in-the-world animal travel trail system, Zoo360. Zoo360 is a campus-wide network of see-through mesh trails for animals to roam through and around the park above visitors’ heads. The park leads the nation with its innovative educational center and children’s zoo, KidZooU, an indoor and outdoor wildlife academy for young learners from preschool to tweenagers.

The South

Zoo Miami

Zoo Miami is the only tropical zoo in the continental United States, and it’s the largest and oldest zoological garden in Florida. Its lush, tropical, open-air exhibits feature more than 3,000 animals. The Florida: Mission Everglades exhibit is a highlight of the zoo, providing residents and tourists alike a backwater look at native wildlife and conservation efforts in the Everglades. Other exhibits include the Asian Riverlife Experience and Amazon and Beyond, which has several habitats with animals from South and Central America.

The Midwest

Black, white, red and yellow bird. Image by James Lee

Red River Zoo

A relatively new zoo in the United States, the Red River Zoo located in Fargo, North Dakota opened to the public in 1999. The intentional development plan for the zoo primarily focused on incorporating species from around the world with climates similar to that of North Dakota, such as North America, Northern Asia, and Northern Europe. Because of its focus on cold weather climates, the zoo has a unique collection of animals and has had noted success breeding a number of rare and endangered species, including Chinese Red Pandas, Pallas’ Cats and Sichuan Takin.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Omaha, Nebraska’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium offers 160 acres of plants, animals, and immersive habitats and six acres of indoor exhibits. If you’re looking for a zoo with a lot of “America’s largest” and “world’s largest” exhibits, this is the zoo for you. Its Eugene T. Mahoney Kingdoms of the Night exhibit provides visitors incredible insights into the nightlife of nocturnal creatures and is the largest nocturnal exhibit in the world. The zoo is also home to the world’s largest indoor desert, the Desert Dome, which is inside the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome. Plants and animals from three deserts around the world live in the Desert Dome’s 84,000 square feet. The Lied Jungle is America’s largest indoor rainforest, with a 50-foot waterfall, swinging bridges, and rainforest flora and fauna from rainforests in South America, Asia, and Africa.

These are just a small sampling of zoos in America. Which zoo is your favorite? What do you love about it? Tell us in the comments on Instagram or Facebook! We’d love to hear about the zoos near you.

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