Zoos are fascinating and educational places for families to spend a day. Children are especially captivated by animals, particularly animals that are new or unusual to them. Zoos have a wonderful effect on adults, too. Breeding endangered species in captivity to reintroduce them into the wild is a goal for several zoos. Modern zoos want teach visitors the importance of animal conservation, often by letting visitors witness the animals firsthand in exhibits that closely resemble natural habitats. Texas’ biggest cities are home to some of the best zoos in the U.S.
Fort Worth Zoo
Recipient of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2011 Top Honors in exhibit design, the Fort Worth Zoo houses 452 species of animals, including 68 endangered species. It is the only zoo in the United States to display all four species of Great Ape, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos and chimpanzees. It’s also the only zoo in Texas with pygmy chimps. The zoo has one of the largest reptile collections. A remarkable point of interest is that it’s one of five zoos in the world to display two of the five rhino species in captivity: black, and one-horned Asian rhinos. The Fort Worth Zoo has been rearing chicks consistently since 2001, and is considered to have the most successful breeding colony of lesser flamingos in the world. It’s one of only eight zoos in the nation to house the endangered Harpy eagle. The zoo is part of conservation efforts for the Jamaican iguana, which is the most endangered lizard in the world. This endeavor won the zoo the International Conservation Award in 2000 for the Jamaican iguana conservation program. Info: www.fortworthzoo.org · 1989 Colonial Parkway · Fort Worth, Texas 76110 (817) 759-7555.
The Dallas Zoo had humble beginnings in 1888 with just two deer and two mountain lions in City Park. Interest and popularity caused it to move to Fair Park in 1909, and it relocated again to Marsalis Park in 1912—its present location. Throughout the past 129 years, numerous upgrades to the exhibits and facilities have been made and collections expanded. Exhibits such as the Giants of the Savanna, and Wonders of the Wild Today are focal points of the Dallas Zoo’s more than 2,000 animals. In spring 2017, the Simmons Hippo Outpost opened, returning them to the Zoo for the first time in 15 years. The park’s habitats can be toured by monorail, a one-mile tour lasting about 25 minutes. The Dallas Zoo is a participant in the national Species Survival Plans for 37 species, including gorillas, tigers, chimps, lemurs, okapis, and Bali mynahs. Info: www.dallaszoo.com · 650 R.L. Thornton Fwy, · Dallas, TX 75203 · (469) 554-7500.
San Antonio Zoo
San Antonio’s initial zoo was collection of animals assembled in San Pedro Park in the 1800s. In 1914, Colonel George W. Brackenridge, founder of the San Antonio Express-News, placed buffalo, elk, deer, monkeys, a pair of lions, and four bears on land he had deeded over to the city in what is now known as Brackenridge Park. This collection became the San Antonio Zoo. In November 1929, they created and opened two of the first free range exhibits in the United States called Barless Bear Terraces and the Primate Paradise, which allowed visitors unprecedented views of animals. The Richard Friedrich Aquarium was dedicated in 1948.The Hixon Bird House, a simulated tropical rain forest opened in 1966 and allowed free-flying birds. The zoo’s bird collection is now one of the world’s largest. The San Antonio Zoo is located close to Downtown in historic Brackenridge Park. This zoo hosts 750 species on 56 acres. Its conservation programs include working with flamingo, white rhino, black rhino, snow leopard, whooping crane, and other endangered species. A large section of the zoo is set aside specifically for children and children’s programs Info: http://www.sazoo.org/ · 3903 North St. Mary’s St., · San Antonio, Texas 78212 · (210) 734-7184.
It started with a bison named Earl that was donated by a traveling circus in 1922. A fence was then erected in Hermann Park to house various assortments of snakes, birds, and alligators purchased by the City of Houston. The Houston Zoo will turn 100 years old in 2022. Located in Hermann Park, the Houston Zoo is the most-visited zoo in Texas. Privatized in 2002, the zoo has undergone numerous upgrades and expansions that has added to enjoyment for visitors. The zoo houses more than 6,000 animals—including more than 900 species—on 55 acres. The Houston Zoo takes enormous pride in supporting efforts that save native Texas wildlife from extinction. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is responsible for ensuring the survival of these species, and Houston Zoo staff members work with them implementing a thorough conservation plan, including creating biological inventories, protecting wetlands, developing partnerships, and increasing education for and support of conservation on private lands. Info: www.houstonzoo.org ·The Houston Zoo · 6200 Hermann Park Drive · Houston, TX 77030 · (713) 533-6500.
Waco Cameron Park Zoo
The Cameron Park Zoo, adjacent to the Brazos River, is inside Cameron Park, one of the largest undeveloped municipal parks in the United States. The zoo features a diverse collection that includes more than 1,700 animals, representing 300 species. The zoo encompasses 52 acres, and its pathways lead visitors through lush landscapes and natural habitat exhibits of animals from Africa, Asia, South America, North America, and Madagascar. The zoo is the most prolific breeder of King Vultures in North America. The Lemur Island exhibits includes the Sclater’s black lemur, making Cameron Park Zoo one of only 14 zoos worldwide to house the critically endangered Sclater’s black lemur. In 2005, new area was created and opened called the Brazos River Country. It features a saltwater reef aquarium, a large swampland habitat, and many other native Texas type habitats to house numerous species found within the state. The exhibit is so large, it nearly doubled both the animal population and overall size of the zoo. In 2009, the zoo added the Asian Forest, expanding its collection to include endangered species such as Orangutans, Sumatran Tigers, and Komodo dragons. Info: www.cameronparkzoo.com · 1701 N 4th St, Waco, TX 76707 · (254) 750-8400.