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We're Going to the Zoo!

When is the last time you have been to the Zoo? The third week in July is National Zookeepers Week. We think Zookeepers are amazing people. In earlier decades, zoos developed a bad reputation as havens of cruelty. Not so anymore; they are places where animal advocates and friends lead conservation efforts to preserve threatened and endangered species. Through the care and research of Zookeepers, we learn much about the health, welfare, and preservation of at-risk animals. Zookeepers uphold the highest care standards for the lives they are in charge of even develop strong emotional bonds to their charges. 

Early zoological gardens featured animals in pens or cages placed on display for entertainment with little concern for their welfare. In the 1860’s animal merchant Carl Hagenbeck set up his Tierpark zoo and began showing animals in exhibits where there was a large paddock separated from the public by moats instead of bars. His efforts were met with mixed reviews. As awareness of the poor conditions of zoo animals arose, so did organizations like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which monitor conditions, set standards, and certified those places seeking to improve. In the 1970s, the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA, created an immersive experience, with animals in areas representing their natural habitat. The benefits of this modern approach were seen as the health, life span, and reproduction rates of the animals improved, and engagement of those that visited increased.

Today Zoos are more popular than ever, with over 181 million visitors each year in the United States alone. I wonder what the zoo animals think of the human menagerie that passes before them or if we all just look alike. The sight must be pretty entertaining. To pay tribute to the Zookeepers out there and help you plan some potential trips, here are the top 10 zoos in the United States by attendance.

San Diego Zoo – San Diego, CA  (3.2 million annual visitors) This 100-acre Zoo houses over 3,700 animals and is known for its endangered species breeding program. 

Lincoln Park Zoo – Chicago, IL  (3 million annual visitors) 35 acres and home to 1,250 animals, Lincoln Park is one of 5 zoos in the Chicagoland area and the only privately managed, free Zoo in the country. 

St. Louis Zoo – St Louis, MO  (2.9 million annual visitors) home to 20,000 animals from over 650 species, it is recognized as a leading zoo in animal management, research, conservation, and education

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium – Columbus, OH (2.3 million annual visitors)  With 11,000 animals from 600 species on 580 acres, this is the Largest Zoo in the United States 

Brookfield Zoo – Chicago, IL  (2.2 million annual visitors) This 216-acre Zoo is where you will find 2300 animals thriving in open air, unbarred areas.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park (2.2 million annual visitors) Home to the most famous giant pandas in the US; the National Zoo has an additional 2,000 animals from 400 species spread across 163 acres. 

Bronx Zoo (2 million annual visitors) At 265 acres, NYC’s Bronx Zoo is America’s largest urban Zoo.

Denver Zoological Gardens – Denver, CO (1.9 million annual visitors) This 80-acre Zoo was founded in 1918 and is home to nearly 4,000 animals.  The National Historic Registry has the Denver Zoo as the site of the first Hagenbeck-style enclosure in the United States.

Como Park Zoo and Observatory – St. Paul, MN (1.9 million annual visitors) Como Park also features an amusement park, golf course, Lake Como, a pool, and more.

Houston Zoo – Houston, TX (1.8 million annual visitors)  At 55 acres, this zoological park with 6,000 animals from 900 species rounds out the top 10 most-attended Zoos in the United States.

So seriously, when was your last Zoo experience.  If it has been more than a year, you need to make plans to head out to one of the Zoological Gardens above or to your favorite; there are some fantastic choices out there.  In the words of the fantastic Paul Simon, “They say it’s all happening at the Zoo. I do believe it. I do believe it’s true.”   We are right there with you, Mr. Simon.  Let us know your favorite Zoo or Zoo memory.  We would love to hear them.  Don’t mind us, though, “We’re going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo.”


  • Eileen Lash

    The Denver Zoo is awesome. They just added an animal hospital where visitors can view procedures done on the animals. I have been a member for years and go frequently.

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