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Discover The Largest Zoo In The USA

Giant Panda
Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) at zooParc in Beauval. Image via Gzen92, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Humans have strong connections with other living creatures on the planet earth. Every region has its native animals, birds, and other living organisms. The best place to see animals from all around the world is by going to a zoo. And what better place to marvel at all the wonders of the natural world than at the largest zoo in the United States?

Columbus Zoo
Columbus Zoo. Adolphus79 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many zoos in the United States, each unique in infrastructure, attracting dozens of visitors daily. Many different animals, birds, and even endangered animals can be seen at the largest zoo in the United States.

In this article, you will get to know about the largest zoo in the United States. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will leave you in awe of the amazing species of animals brought together in one place.

Key Points

CategoryKey Points
OverviewLargest U.S. zoo: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
HistoryFounded in 1927, spans 582 acres in Ohio.
Animal Diversity10,000+ animals, 800 species – a global spectacle.
Famous FiguresJack Hanna, “Jungle Jack” – beloved zookeeper.
Conservation EffortsActive partnerships, coral reef conservation.
AttractionsZoombezi Bay, 4-D Theater, Wildlights – fun galore.
Unique FeaturesHome to the largest coral reef in the U.S.
Educational ProgramsSummer camps, animal encounters – learning in action.
Behind-the-ScenesVIP experiences, night hikes – closer to wildlife.
Notable RegionsAdventure Cove, Heart of Africa, Polar Frontier, & more.
FAQsTop queries on endangered cats, zoos worldwide.
ConclusionColumbus Zoo: Where fun meets conservation excellence.

The Largest Zoo In The United States

Interact with thousands of different animals at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Image via Unsplash.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium takes credit for being the largest zoo in the United States. 

Although there are a few other zoos that contend for the title of being the largest: The Wilds, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Zoo Miami or Lion Country Safari. But these are not traditional zoos; therefore, we are concentrating on the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

History Of The Largest Zoo In The United States:

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, as the name implies, has been home to both land and marine animals in Ohio since 1927.

The very first zoo, just referred to as “the zoo” in Columbus, was located in the Old Beechwold Historic District and opened in May 1905. It closed for unknown reasons in October 1905. 

When the zoo first started in 1927 it consisted only of 21 acres of a riverside park. After much struggle including Harry P. Wolfe struggling to buy various rare animals and then keeping them at Franklin Park Conservatory, the first building housed tigers and lions in 1932.  It was named Columbus Municipal Zoo in 1937.

Cut to 2022 and this beautiful zoo is regularly visited by more than two million sightseers from across all corners of the world.


YouTube video
“Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Full Tour” Source: YouTube, Uploaded: Tom’s Road Trippin

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is located in Liberty Township, Ohio, which is north of Columbus.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is known as the largest zoo in the United States for good reason: it covers a massive area of 582 acres. The actual zoo only takes up about 406.30 acres of land, with other exhibitions and recreational Facilities covering the remaining area.

Animals at Columbus Zoo And Aquarium

People make plans to visit those zoos that have the most animals so that they can connect with as many species as possible. Columbus zoo and aquarium is home to many small to large animals across the globe. More than 10,000 animals and 800 different species are in the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Thus making a visit to the Columbus zoo the experience of a lifetime!

Not all of these animals are native to the United States; many are endangered and non-native species of animals. There are penguins, wolves, lions, giraffes, red pandas, and many more at the zoo.

Special efforts are made by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to protect and house various endangered animals disappearing from the planet. For example, the black rattlesnake, African leopard, and African gray parrot.

Programs offered by the zoo

The thrill of this zoo is that it also offers some exciting programs for visitors of all ages. As a result, the visitors get a perfect understanding of the animals in the zoo. 

The zoo also offers multiple summer camps for children to get information about the animals in the zoo.

Recreational Facilities And Exhibits

Various exhibits and recreational facilities organized by the zoo management make the stay of visitors more lively and cherishable. A water park, an amusement park, and an eighteen-hole golf course make a trip to the zoo so much more enticing.

Prominent Zoo Keeper Jack Hanna

YouTube video
“The best of “Jungle” Jack Hanna,” Source: YouTube, Uploaded: Letterman

The largest zoo in the United States has a famous zoo keeper: Jack Hanna. He is famously known as Jungle Jack and served as the director of Columbus Zoo for some years.

Over the years, Jack Hanna appeared as a guest on many television shows, such as the Late Show with David Letterman and Good Morning America. He used these opportunities to promote awareness about animals and to emphasize the importance of their conservation. Jack Hanna has a successful Emmy-winning television show as well.

Columbus Zoo And Aquarium Fame

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium holds a good reputation for many reasons. Not only is it the biggest zoo in the United States, but it is also a famous zoo because it has the largest coral reef in the United States. This zoo is also home to the Florida Manatees, the largest member of the aquatic mammal order Sirenia. 

Conservation And Education

coral reef at columbus zoo and aquarium
Coral reefs are iconic ecosystems to see. Image by Qui Nguyen via Unsplash

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium does its best to promote and enhance conservation. Thus, it is partnered with a number of other businesses and zoos for education and conservation programs.

The Wilds in Ohio is one of the partners of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The Wilds is a nonprofit safari and conservation center that has ostriches, zebras, deer, bison, and much more.

Main Attractions at Columbus Zoo

There are several attractions for visitors in the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The most common among them are:

  • Zoombezi Bay

Zoombezi Bay is a 22.7 acre water park of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium with 17 slides and 6 amusement rides. Between multiple tours, you can enjoy a private cabana, explore various dry rides at Jungle Jack’s Landing (if you don’t feel like getting in the water), a lunch, a snack, or a cold drink.

  • 4-D Theater

At the 4-D theater families can enjoy 8 to 12 minutes long thrilling and exciting movies. With 4-D all your senses are engaged in the movie, you won’t want to miss it!

  • Wild lights

Wild lights is a fun activity for the whole family. There are animated light shows, millions of lights, zoo animals, and the opportunity to tour with Santa.

This spectacular nighttime adventure will be a memorable part of the experience.

light show
The spectacular evening light show will dazzle and educate you. Image by Cosmin Serban via Unsplash

Transportation Facility Inside Columbus Zoo:

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, ranked amongst the best zoos in the world, has three modes of transportation other than walking. These include the train, tram and even boatrides.

However, no one is allowed to bring their vehicles inside the zoo. Most people like the absence of standard vehicles inside. Exhaust fumes from cars can pollute the zoo environment. Thus, to make sure they have the best living place for the animals, Columbus Zoo has not allowed cars inside it.

Places To Go Inside The Columbus Zoo And Aquarium

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a fantastic attraction in central Ohio for many families. There is a wealth of different locations inside Columbus Zoo itself, such as:

  • Congo Expedition Forest
  • Pirate Island
  • Amusement rides 
  • Live shows
  • Shopping options
  • Dining 

Alluring Areas In The Columbus Zoo

orca aquarium
An orca in the aquarium. Image via Pexels

The rambling ground of the largest zoo in the United States is divided into different exhibit groups. Thus, each group represents a unique region of the world. However, the newly constructed parts are more themed than the old ones.

1. Adventure Cove:

Adventure cove is one of the new regions in the Columbus zoo that was opened in 2020. This area contains:

It is a lively part of the adventure cove where people connect with the wildlife. It is one of the ever-changing and greatly interactive environments.

  • Pool For Harbor Seals And California Sea Lion

This is the newest region in adventure cove. Diverse species dwell here, including four harbor seals and ten California sea lions. 

  • Stingray Bay

This is a habitat for various stingrays. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal with stingrays.

A considerable number of animals are in the adventure cove, but some of featured animals are:

  • California sea lion
  • Swift fox
  • Harbor seal
  • Capybara
  • Eastern screech owl
  • Southern Stingray
  • Gopher tortoise

and much more. 

2. Heart Of Africa:

Male lion
Lion male. Byrdyak, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To the east and north of the zoo is the largest region of the whole zoo: Heart of Africa. The Heart of Africa was opened in 2014. Thanks to the 43 acres of land in the heart of America that inhabits African land animals.

When you walk into the Heart of Africa, you can watch African lions sleep in the shade, a caravan of camels in a parade, a cheetah running around the watering hole, and wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles rove around the Savannah. 

Although the list of animals in the heart of Africa is very long, some of them are listed below:

  • African lion
  • Greater kudu
  • Dama gazelle
  • Masai giraffe
  • Cheetah
  • Reticulated giraffe
  • Grant’s zebra
  • Thomson’s gazelle
  • Rhim gazelle
  • Vervet monkey

The water hole is the centerpiece of Africa’s heart. It’s an open rotational enclosure containing a large pond. The exhibit is designed in such a way that different animals keep pouring in and out throughout the day. 

Therefore you can only spot a few species at the watering hole at a time. Nine animals in the watering hole of the heart of Africa are:

  • Cheetah
  • Common warthog
  • Spotted hyena
  • Trumpeter hornbill
  • Lesser flamingo
  • Silvery-cheeked hornbill
  • Black-backed jackal
  • Aardvark

While having refreshments in a restaurant in the heart of Africa one can enjoy a beautiful Savannah view where cranes dance, zebras graze, and gazelle leap.  

3. Polar Frontier:

polar bear
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus). Image via Alexander Leisser, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This exhibit is an extension of the North American region of the zoo and was opened in May 2010.

The polar frontier is the most incredible region among all regions of Columbia zoo and aquarium. It is home to many polar bears. Recently three new cubs became members here! Polar bears live here happily as they eat, swim, and play in this beautiful part of the zoo. 

You will enjoy watching the polar bears catch trout and plunge into a 167,000-gallon pond. In the center of this exhibit, a play area for children and a conservation building is located. 

Visitors can enjoy breathtaking experiences when they come face-to-face with playful Alaskan brown bears, hear a wolf howl, sight a polar bear in the pool, and wonder when a bald eagle spreads its wings.

4. Australia & The Islands:

This area is on the eastern bank of the Scioto River, which is located on the zoo’s far west side.

The roadhouse exhibit has been accessible since 2003, and in 2004, the koala habitat, kangaroo walkabout, and lorikeet aviary were opened. 

In Australia and the island region, visit” down under” and see the gibbons swinging on trees, see kangaroos hopping around and get a whiff of the breath of a komodo dragon. 

5. Tours And Behind The Scenes Experiences:

night hike
One of the activities at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a night hike! Image via Depositphotos

There are unique behind the scene experiences at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium where you can get up close with the wildlife. 

Here is a list of visits and behind-the-scenes adventures you can do at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium:

  • Night Hikes
  • Twilight Tour
  • Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village Experience
  • Animal Health Center Trip
  • Experience In Animal Programs
  • Red Panda Experience
  • Heart Of Savannah tour
  • Sea and sea lion experience
  • VIP behind the scenes
  • Cheetah Experience
  • Elephant Bath Experience
  • Reindeer Experience

6. Aquarium And Shores:

The Shores area is famous for manatee aquariums (manatee coast) and fish aquariums (discovery reef). 

This region also features shows of American alligators, Aldabra giant tortoises, Caribbean flamingos, and Humboldt penguins.

  • Manatee Coast:

Manatee coast was opened in 1999 and is considered the cornerstone of this region. There are various endangered species such as pelicans, Florida manatees, stingrays, fish, and a sea turtle. The manatee exhibit features a 192,000 gallon indoor water habitat.

It is a popular display because it is one of the two habitats outside Florida where manatees are kept. The retractable roof of the building provides an outdoor appearance to the building during warm conditions. You can see five manatees here.

  • Discovery Reef:

Discovery reef is a saltwater aquarium of 88,000 gallons in the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. It is home to sharks, fish, garden eels, and coral. There is also the most spectacular live coral show to be seen in the discovery reef.

  • Reptile Habitat:

This area is also located in the shore region of the Columbus zoo and aquarium. Various lizards, snakes, tortoises, and terrapins live in this indoor facility. 

Many threatened species also live in this area of the Columbus Zoo. These include yellow-spotted river turtles, eastern plains garter snakes, Madagascar ground boas, Jamaican boas, and Roti Island snake-necked turtles.

7. Congo Expedition:

Western gorilla
Three generations of western lowland gorillas live at the zoo. Image by wrangel via Depositphotos

Congo expedition is an African forest region in the Columbus zoo that congo expedition opened in 2000. This region is home to various central African rainforest animals like hooved mammals, primates, birds, and large cats. 

The congo expedition’s primate region features three excellent generations of western lowland gorillas. Colo is the first gorilla to be born in captivity in the world.

You can also come across the closest relatives of human beings, the pygmy chimpanzees, commonly called Bonobos.

Did You Know? In 2012 on May 18, Mumbah, who was one of the gorillas of Columbus zoo, died at the age of 47 due to cardiac infarction. He was a Columbus zoo dweller since 1984 and was brought from England’s animal park.

Final Words:

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is the first on the list of largest zoos in the United States. There are a vast amount of animals in it. 

Along with sighting and feeding the animals, many other entertainment facilities are available in the zoo. You also get to explore and gain lots of knowledge on different biospheres across the world.

This largest zoo in the United States is also home to many endangered species. Many conservation and education programs are ongoing at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Between the well-known zookeeper, thousands of animal species, and the many attractions in the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a visit here will surely be an unforgettable experience for every visitor!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the #1 zoo in the United States?

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is recognized as the largest zoo in the United States.

What is the largest private zoo in the United States?

The Wilds in Ohio, affiliated with the Columbus Zoo, is one of the largest private conservation centers.

Is the Bronx Zoo the largest zoo in the United States?

No, the Bronx Zoo is not the largest zoo in the United States. The title of the largest zoo goes to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio.

What is the second biggest zoo in the world?

the San Diego Zoo in California is considered one of the largest zoos globally, following the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in the United States. Please verify for any updates beyond that date.

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