In May, I wrote my favorite zoos that I’ve been to in Europe and as the Bronx Zoo in New York City plans to reopen next week (I’m so excited!), I thought it was time to finally write about the best zoos in the United States.
As I said in my post about the zoos around the world, I likely won’t seek out zoos while I’m traveling in the future for animal welfare reasons. A lot of cities around the world just don’t have the proper amount of space to home larger animals and it makes me sad to see them kept in enclosures that are too small.
That being said: I know the Bronx Zoo isn’t perfect, but it’s an awesome zoo.
And I can’t wait to go next week! Since (safe) entertainment options are few and far between right now, I bought a two person membership with the Wildlife Conservation Society for the year that gets two people into any of the four WCS zoos in New York City (Bronx Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, Central Park Zoo).
However, to take proper social distancing precautions due to COVID, you have to reserve tickets online for a certain time ahead of the date (whether or not you’re a member), so make sure to do that if you’re going to any of the four zoos.
Another benefit of being a WCS member now is that they have reserved five days next week solely for members so there will be even fewer people there than usual. If you need me on Tuesday at 2pm, I’ll be at the Bronx Zoo chatting with the tigers and the snow leopards.
The Bronx Zoo (Bronx, New York)
I consider this my hometown zoo for obvious reasons. It’s about an hour subway ride away from my apartment, or a 20 minute cab ride. The park that the zoo is located in (the Bronx Park) is absolutely massive and after I started watching the show The Zoo on Animal Planet, I learned just how much space the animals actually have that the public never sees. (I highly recommend watching it!) It’s the largest zoo in a metropolitan area in the United States measuring 256 acres. The Bronx Zoo is, of course, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The Bronx Zoo was originally founded in 1985 when members Madison Grant and C. Grant LaFarge of the Boone and Crockett Club – an organization that, ironically – promoted fair hunting in natural habits (!!!) – founded the New York Zoological Society (which later became the WSC) for the very same reason that they’re still around today: zoology and wildlife preservation.
The Bronx Zoo opened its doors to the public on November 8, 1899. At the time it featured 843 animals in 22 different exhibits.
The main gates were designed in Beaux-Arts style architecture and were designated on the National Registered Places in 1972. In 1916, they were the first zoo in the world to have an animal hospital on the premises and in 1937 the Bronx Zoo became the first zoo in North America to house Okapi.
According to Wikipedia, as of 2010 the Bronx Zoo is home to 4,000 animals of 650 species.
My favorite spots in the zoo are the Himalayan Highlands, Tiger Mountain, and the meerkats (they’re so cute!). The whole space is really massive and deserves at least half a day to wander and really get a good look at every species that’s there.
As previously mentioned, the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society also work to preserve endangered species and give animals that are born at the Bronx Zoo, as well as around the country, the best life possible.
Back in January 2019, I had the opportunity to be in the same room as two of the cheetahs that they’ve raised since they were cubs. It was fascinating. They acted just like my cats at home, but they had much louder purrs and bigger claws. This wasn’t like Tiger King – nobody posed for photos with the cheetahs. (Although I’ll admit that I really wanted to.)
I’ve run a couple of “Run For the Wild” 5ks to help raise money for the Wildlife Conservation Society which is always a good time. It’s always followed by a day wandering around the zoo afterward (Protip: remember to bring a change of clothing). Sadly, it was canceled this year for obvious reasons.
One of my favorite aspects of the Bronx Zoo is that they use natural barriers and not cages. This is usually one of the things I look for when I’m visiting zoos anywhere I go. The fewer cages that I can see the better.
For more information on their conservation efforts, I’d highly recommend you check out the show The Zoo on Animal Planet. A few episodes back, the Zoo was given a pair of cougar cubs to help raise and they are SO cute. I’m hoping they’re still at the Zoo when I go!
The Bronx Zoo is located at 2300 Southern Blvd, The Bronx, NY 10460. You can find more information about hours and purchasing tickets here.
San Diego Zoo (San Diego, California)
The San Diego Zoo was recently voted the #1 zoo in the world. WOW! I visited the San Diego Zoo back in 2016 when I took a long weekend out there and that was one of my must-do items on my agenda. I have to admit that it is an absolutely huge space. I don’t remember how many hours I spent there, but it was at least half a day.
Their mission is ending extinction. Their veterinarians conduct animal behavior and health studies that would be otherwise impossible to conduct in the wild.
The idea for the San Diego Zoo grew out of the need to find somewhere to house exotic animals after their exhibits were abandoned in 1915. The city of San Diego gave 100 acres of land in Balboa Park to the Zoological Society of San Diego (that was set up following the same guidelines as the one in New York) and it was agreed upon that the animals would be owned by the city but managed by the Zoological Society.
The San Diego Zoo was the first zoo to pioneer the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits, according to Wikipedia. The first cageless lion exhibit opened in 1923. When they first opened, they only had the exotic animals from the exhibition but today they currently provide a home for over 3,500 animals, including 650 species and subspecies in their over 20 exhibits in the park.
There have been a number of animal escapes from the San Diego Zoo, including a Tasmanian Devil, a Koala, and two hyenas who escaped during a private party.
They house leopards, bonobos, condors, camels, clouded leopards, elephants, fossas, and so much more. There are free trams and lifts to get around the massive park.
Today they are of course accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (same as the ABQ BioPark).
In their Institute for Conservation Research, they have worked towards the conservation of species such as California Condors, tigers, gorillas, various species of tortoise, and clouded leopards, among many, many others.
The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park at 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101. Tickets can be purchased and more information can be found on their website here.
ABQ BioPark (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
The ABQ BioPark is a much, much smaller zoo, yes, but it was awarded Quarter Century Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (aka the AZA, the primary accrediting body for top zoos and aquariums in the United States since 1974) in 2015, after it first became accredited in 1981.
The ABQ BioPark is smaller than the San Diego and Bronx Zoo, then again, Albuquerque is just a small city. This zoo will still take you several hours to get around. I visited this zoo in 2018 when I was visiting my best friend and her husband who live out there and I loved it. I especially loved seeing an ocelot in person for the first time!
I even got to feed a Lorikeet. How cute are they?
Ocelots are small wild cats and they’re pretty rare. Sadly, they’re often hunted for their exquisite fur. They had two or three ocelots back at the BioPark in 2018 and I saw an article online last year that two must have mated because two ocelot kittens had been born at the zoo in November 2019. They’re ADORABLE. The ocelots are probably fully grown now, but they’re probably still adorable.
The ABQ BioPark is also a leader in the conservation of Snow Leopards and they have a really successful breeding program. My favorite part of the BioPark was, of course, the “Cat Walk.” Lions, tigers, snow leopards, ocelots, mountain lions, cheetahs, bobcats, and jaguars can all be found at the ABQ BioPark.
With over 32 acres of space, the ABQ BioPark is a worthy destination if you’re in Albuquerque. Support the zoo and you’re directly supporting the conservation of these beautiful and endangered species.
The ABQ Bio Park is located 903 10th St SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102. Tickets and more information can be found here.
Denver Zoo (Denver, Colorado)
The Denver Zoo was founded all the way back in 1896. I remember reading the history of the zoo on my way there and much like how many of the zoos in Europe were created out of the royalty’s menageries, the same happened in Denver. The mayor was given a black bear cub in 1896 and the idea for the Denver Zoo was born.
According to the Denver Zoo’s website, in 1918, the Denver Zoo was the first zoo to enact the concept of Carl Hagenbeck: the concept of having none of the animals at the behind bars or fences. So, Wikipedia claims it was San Diego Zoo and Denver Zoo’s website claims they were the first. If you know for sure, let me know!
The Denver Zoo partnered with the Gates Family Foundation (one of the largest philanthropic organizations that supports organizations in Colorado) and the Colorado Division of Wildlife to create the Gates Wildlife Conservation Education Center in 1996.
According to their site, “this building is a home base for the zoo’s array of on-grounds and outreach education programs for people of all ages presented by a dedicated group of staff and volunteers who are passionate about the zoo’s mission.”
The Fishing Cat
One animal that saw at the Denver Zoo that I can’t even say I knew existed before my visit was the Fishing Cat! These unique felines look like your typical tabby cat with white spots on the back of their ears.
They’re slightly larger than a housecat (they can weigh anywhere between 13 and 26 pounds) and with smaller ears. They have webbed paws too, to help them swim. They are also pescatarian! I watched as one darted back and forth, back and forth, in pursuit of a fish.
“The Edge” is the area where the tigers live and have their very own cat walk, high above visitors’ heads. When I was at the Denver Zoo, one was having a lazy afternoon high above my head, wondering how best he could eat me (probably).
I also saw a serious-looking capybara, a relatively young but still large elephant, and a couple of beautiful birds. There are all kinds of primates, lions, snow leopards, and some seriously adorable penguins, too.
The Denver Zoo has expanded considerably since they opened in 1918 and now occupy 80 acres and is the most popular attraction in Denver.
The Denver Zoo is located at 2300 Steele St, Denver, CO 80205. Tickets can be purchased and you can find more information here.
These are just some of the awesome zoos in America. But like I said, I don’t think I’m going to go out of my way to visit zoos on my travels anymore. That being said, I really want to visit the baby cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington DC. (You can check out their cam here!)
So tell me: Do you like zoos? Do you hate them? Let me know below in the comments before!