What makes the world’s best zoo? Is it the best value for the money? If so, the St. Louis Zoo might be tops, given the fact that it is both good and free. (Parking is expensive, however.) Is it the largest? San Diego might take the prize. Is it the most unique? The Night Safari Zoo in Singapore jumps quickly to mind.
In 2014, TripAdvisor ranked 275 major zoos worldwide based on an algorithm of millions of reviews, and proclaimed the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska as the best. So when designing my cross-country itinerary, I made sure to include a stop to see this place for myself.
I have always loved visiting zoos. Most of you probably don’t know this, but I was even a student docent at the LA Zoo in high school! (That zoo is also pretty well rated.) So purchasing my $22 ticket – not cheap but not expensive – I was excited to spend a few hours of a hot and humid Nebraska summer day exploring.
My first stop was the Lied Jungle, a series of exhibits exploring both the animals and plants of some of the world’s most remote jungles. Like many of the exhibits here, it is entirely indoors, meaning it can remain open even in harsh midwestern winters. It was expansive, featuring a number of animal species in separate enclosures that all seemed to be connected, leading to a feeling of true jungle immersion. Some birds were even free to roam the entire exhibit!
The interior of the Lied Jungle
Exhibits like this are what sets the Henry Doorly Zoo apart. The iconic new Desert Dome is one of the world’s largest indoor desert-scapes, while the “Kingdoms of the Night” exhibit underneath it is the world’s largest for nocturnal animals. There is also an indoor butterfly garden, reptile house, and full aquarium.
The Desert Dome
The zoo is named for Henry Doorly, former editor of the Omaha World-Herald. His widow donated $750,000 in 1963 to help restore the Omaha Riverfront Zoo, and the name came with it. Since then, its sterling reputation has helped to garner millions of dollars in individual and corporate donations, and virtually every building, enclosure, and region of the zoo has been named for a generous donor.
Everywhere are touches that most zoos don’t have. Landscaped regional exhibits look like scenes out of Disneyland, each themed in decoration and even food options! As much attention goes into the environment visitors experience as that of the animals themselves. Signage is informative, focusing not only on the animals but also the role the zoo plays in their species study and survival. (There is a lack of maps, though, so make sure to take one when you enter.)
Disneyland or a zoo?
If I had to pick a favorite spot, it was Giraffe Encounters in the recently opened African Grasslands area. For $3, visitors can purchase snacks to feed these wonderful creatures. And really, can there be anything better than this?
I’m in love!
There is construction going on at the zoo right now, forcing the “loop” path to go through the aviary. However, when complete, this new area will be yet another themed region for visitors to enjoy, and I hear it will include sea otters! Added to my other favorites – lemurs, hippos, and the big cats – and the Henry Doorly Zoo will have it all! Here are some cute animal pictures to explain better than I can.
So what makes the world’s best zoo, and is this it? Taking a cop-out answer: I don’t know. I do know this. The Henry Doorly Omaha Zoo and Aquarium is one of the finest zoological experiences I’ve had, and a must-see if you find yourself in Omaha!
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