Forget about gawking at animals in metal cages, these days zoos are more like a home away from home for thousands of animal species. Zoos around the county are going above and beyond to create natural habitats for their animals and often times train their animals to survive in the wild after being released. Sadly, an overwhelming number of animal species are on the verge of extinction, and without the conservation efforts of these zoos many of them would be.
Using Localicious searches and Foursquare check-ins in comparison to population size, we’ve calculated the 10 most popular zoos in America – and they are all models of excellence. Please click on the zoo name to donate.
This two in one zoo and aquarium is home to more than 4,000 animals from 475 different species, including 20 on the endangered species list. Since its founding in 1898, the zoo has become more and more focused on conversation and creating naturalistic habitats for its animals. They even founded the International Conservation Center to better address the needs of breeding African Elephants. Elephants in this conservation center aren’t just kept in naturalistic habitats, they are allowed to maintain the natural bonds of elephant herds.
The Oregon Zoo was founded in 1888 when an overwhelmed animal collector named Richard Knight donated two bears to city of Portland after he decided it was too much trouble to house them in the back of his drugstore. Since then the zoo has grown to 64 acres, is home to 2,200 animals and 3 full-sized trains to help visitors explore the grounds. The zoo is also heavily focused on conservation of endangered species including the California condor which was all but wiped out in the 1980s, but due to conservation efforts is now making a strong comeback.
The Indianapolis Zoo and White Rivers Gardens host over a million visitors a year, and is the home to sharks, dolphins, warthogs, cheetahs and 320 other species. Unlike other zoos on this list, the Indianapolis Zoo is triple accredited as a zoo, aquarium and botanical garden, which means there is literally something for everyone. The zoo is also focused on creating biomes, which cluster animals according to climate and vegetation. For example, the 80 foot desert biome sports a transparent dome to keep animals basking in 80+ degree weather year round.
The Kansas City Zoo is a 202-acre mega zoo located in Kansas City, Missouri. This mesmerizing zoo includes an African Safari that allows visitors to dangle above the animals on a chair lift ride and an $11-million polar bear passage complete with a recreated glacier.
As part of the Smithsonian Institute, this zoo does not charge admission, which is amazing considering it is home to 2,000 animals from 400 different species. While the public zoo is amazing in its own right, this zoological park has a second 3,200 acre conservation institute called the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute focuses on teaching conservation sciences.
This zoo is noted for its extensive breeding program, which included the first births of polar bears and siamangs in captivity. The zoo is also home to the largest group of captive bonobos in their indoor apes exhibit. Besides their own conservation efforts, the zoo also funds conservation efforts around the world and participates in the Species Survival Plan for all the species in their collection.
The Henry Doorly Zoo, if you can even call it a zoo, is an astonishing complex of indoor habitats including a nocturnal exhibit and indoor swamp, an indoor rainforest and the worlds largest indoor desert. Like the other zoos, Henry Doorly is also heavily invested in animal conservation, especially on the island of Madagascar where an overwhelming majority of animals have ended up on the endangered species list due to agriculture, illegal logging, poaching and mining.
From its humble beginnings in Grant Park, Zoo Atlanta has grown into one of the most prominent zoos in America. It is one of only a handful to house giant pandas, and has the nation’s largest collection of gorillas and orangutangs. Beyond creating natural habitats for its animals, Zoo Atlanta participates in 16 different conservation projects from Sun Bear conservation in Sumatra to bog restoration in Georgia.
The Columbus Zoo holds 5,000 animals from 700 species and over 2.3 million visitors annually. It is often hailed as one of the greatest zoos in America, but it wasn’t always so. In the 1970s the zoo was in dire need of restoration, so in came Jack Hanna to the rescue. He cleaned up the zoo and replaced cages with naturalistic habitats. Due to these efforts and his television fame, the zoo has become a model facility.
The Cincinnati Zoo is the second oldest zoo in America and sets the standard for conservation education and preservation. They house over 500 species of animals and conduct breeding programs for several species. What’s more impressive is their extensive green initiative, including solar power arrays, water conservation, waste management and sustainable design and construction.