Here’s a nice YouTube video showing some of the highlights from our #1 choice in our list of the top five best zoos in America.
This website endeavors to answer the question, what are the best zoos in America. Answering that question though requires an understanding of what qualifies a zoo as one of the best. Answering that question requires some reflection.
A precious and cynical child might well think a trip to the museum is just as good, if not better, than a trip to the zoo. Many museum’s now have vast exhibits of animals, exotic and otherwise, in areas conveniently compact and indoors, well buffeted from climatic elements all year round.
Of course, the animals don’t ever move – because they’re dead and stuffed. But, frankly, as a kid, I recall lots of zoos in which the animals moved so little they might well have been stuffed.
The days when zoos were largely animal museums are happily mostly a thing of the past, now. Indeed, in a certain sense, the more opposite to this that a zoo is capable of making itself, the more it may raise itself up into the league of the best zoos in America – or, indeed, the best in the world.
The best zoos now are not storage displays – warehouses with bars – but active participants in the cultivation and preservation of the earth’s wildlife. They have facilities and missions for research and enterprise to help preserve wildlife in its natural habitat.
They thereby create a symbiosis, so that learning more about how best to ensure the well being of animals in the wild also allows them to design habitat experiences in their zoos that better suit their own animals. The modern zoo is thus a far more stimulating and rewarding experience for all involved.
As zoo animals have the experience of living in environments more closely fit with their evolved dispositions, their natural liveliness is invigorated. This leads to animals with energy and curiosity. Such animals are active and involved with their environment and each other.
Not only does this make for psychologically and physically healthier conditions for the animals, but it provides a more enjoyable zoo-going experience for us. The energy and vitality of animals living in a stimulating environment, sculpted to their evolutionary needs, means we get to see animals that are alive and engaged. This is exciting in itself.
And of course since the action of the animals is now well suited to their natural environment, the zoo is an educational experience in a far more complex and deep way than the stand-and-gawk zoos of my youth.
It’s true that, since this often entails greater ranges for the animals, getting the zoo visitors to the animals becomes more of a challenge. The smartest zoos have been addressing this challenge with various kind of carry-through technology, such as monorails, safari tours and walk through zones.
To identify the best zoos in America, or anywhere in the world, then, it all comes together into a cohesive whole. The conservationist agenda, the new expansive facility designs, the applications of leading technology, in the hands of the most deft zoo keepers and their support staff, have blossomed into a zoological renaissance.
This renaissance allows zoo visitors to have experiences as rich in their learning opportunities as in their sheer exotic wonder. In the process, these zoos inspire in us a sense of awe for the wonders of nature while providing us that rare opportunity for communion with another life: one so different from our own yet also, as an inevitable consequence of our common evolutionary heritage, in some uncanny way also strangely like us.
This is the extraordinary magic of the best zoos: they marry the insights of science and technology to create a sense of the sublime.