Zoos are the perfect way to incorporate an exciting educational opportunity into your school trip. You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't love to watch a tumble-y, fuzzy, baby bear, or doesn't marvel at the king of the jungle, or isn't fascinated by the venomous king cobra. For this reason, zoos have been a popular attraction for centuries. "With more than 150 million annual visitors, America’s zoos attract more people than all of the major pro sports teams combined,“ according to U.S. City Traveler. That's also why your student group can go to zoos time and again and never get bored. Without a doubt, a zoo would be a great addition to your student trip. Here is a rundown of the top 10 zoos in the U.S.
1. San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the nation. Founded in 1916, the zoo is now home to over 3,700 animals. It was the first to create open-air exhibits for their animals rather than the cages that had previously been traditional in zoos. They offer everything from half-hour chats with zookeepers to eight hour private VIP tours of the entire zoo from the inside. The Skyfari air tram can take you from one side of the zoo to the other, offering you great views from overhead! If you decide to visit the San Diego Zoo, you should also take advantage of visiting the San Diego Safari Park which is only half an hour away.
2. Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha, NE
This zoo is a spectacular adventure year round. Home to 962 different species, they offer a chance to see more species of animals than any other zoo in the U.S. It's many features include the largest cat complex in North America as well as the country's largest indoor rainforest - the Lied Jungle, and the world's largest indoor desert environment - the Desert Dome. Other attractions include an aquarium, IMAX theater, seasonal Skyfari, and camel rides. There is an admission fee that varies with the season, but they do offer group rates.
3. Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium is notable for several reasons. It's 580 acres makes it one the of the largest (land wise) zoos in the U.S. The Columbus Zoo is what it is today because of the direction of America's most famous zookeeper - Jack Hanna. Hanna became the director of the zoo in 1978 and made headlines when he appeared on Good Morning America and the Late Show with David Letterman. Hanna is now director emeritus of the zoo. The zoo offers a variety of experiences for student tours including the Kangaroo Walkabout, Giraffe Feeding, keeper talks, and more. The zoo also owns The Wilds - a 10,000-acre center where you may encounter rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, and other rare and endangered species living in natural, open-range habitats. The zoo also owns an 18-hole golf course called Safari Golf Club, the Zoombezi Bay water park, and Jungle Jack’s Landing amusement park.
4. St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo is a world-class zoo with one awesome perk - free admission. Their exhibits feature every continent and major biome on the planet. Those with an affinity for penguins will be excited to know that the zoo's exhibit includes four species of penguins and two species of puffins, making it one of the best aquatic bird displays in the country. Another feature of the zoo is Sea Lion Sound. Not only is it the only place in the country where you can walk through a tunnel and see the sea lions from all sides, they also offer sea lion shows in an amphitheater for a small ticket price.
5. Dallas Zoo
The Dallas Zoo is the zoo to visit for photography enthusiasts. They offer several versions of their photo safaris including an overnight adventure with the opportunity to take photos of the animals after hours all while being mentored by the zoo photographer. The zoo also offers several ones of a kind opportunities. It is one of the few zoos in the U.S. to house koala bears. Its Giants of Savanna exhibit is the only multi-species zoo exhibit in the U.S. to mix elephants and other species in the same habitat. The Wilds of Africa was the first exhibit of it's kind to include every major habitat on the African continent. Guests explore this feature by traveling on a monorail safari through six different areas.
6. Memphis Zoo
Two main animals make the Memphis Zoo most notable: pandas and hippos. China is a three-acre facility that includes animals, plants, and architecture indigenous to China and is also home to Ya Ya and Le Le - a pair of giant pandas. Memphis is one of only four zoos in the U.S. to be home to these beautiful animals. It has also been dubbed "hippo capital of the world" because of "Adonis," the world's longest living hippo who sired 25 hippos before he died at the age of 54.
7. Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
The National Zoo opened in 1889 making it one of the oldest zoos in the nation. It is also one of the four zoos in the U.S. to host three giant pandas as well as red pandas. It is only 20 minutes from the National Mall so it makes a great stop on your tour of Washington D.C. The zoo offers several different versions of their zoo tours. They also have a large offering of presentations throughout the day including an elephant training demo and opportunities to talk to many of the zookeepers. An added bonus - admission is free.
8. Toledo Zoo & Aquarium
The Toledo Zoo is home to a whopping 9,000 animals which is more than twice as many than any other zoo on this list. The zoo also features hippos in the Hippoquariam, giving guests the opportunity to check out the hippos both above and below the water. Also exciting will be the reopening of the aquarium in March of 2015. The new aquarium will feature a shark and stingray touch tank where visitors can get up close and personal with these marine animals.
9. Philadelphia Zoo
The Philadelphia Zoo is most notable for being the first zoo to open in the U.S. on July 1, 1874. The Zoo Balloon is arguably the most popular attraction, rising 400 feet in the air offering amazing aerial views of the zoo as well as the city of Philadelphia, all while playing a commentary on the history of the city and zoo. Other attractions include: camel, pony, and draft horse rides as well as the famous Swan Boats.
10. Bronx Zoo in New York
The Bronx Zoo is located in the Bronx borough of New York City. The zoo incorporates the Bronx River in its 265-acre park. Notables are the Butterfly Garden and the Congo Gorilla Forest which hosts 400 animals alone. They offer camel rides to visitors as well. Bronx Zoo is a part of the Wildlife Conservation Society which also owns the NY Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and Prospect Zoo. So if your student group is in the area, why not take them to visit all five?
There are hundreds of zoos in the country. If you want to make one part of your educational tour, but aren't visiting one of the 10 zoos listed here, check with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to find an accredited zoo. You should also find out if the zoo you plan to visit offers any of these common features: shuttles/trains, IMAX or 4D theaters, overnight stays, special tours, carousels or other rides, or opportunities to interact with the animals. If you're really ambitious, make it your goal to visit all 10 zoos! There's something unique and exciting at every one.