The 10 Largest Zoos in the United States in 2024

Father and son visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs and feed the giraffe lettuce, a popular attraction.
Thomas Barrat/Shutterstock.com

Written by Telea Dodge

Updated: June 26, 2023

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This infographic illustrates the ten largest zoos in the United States
The 10 largest zoos in the United States are home to thousands of animals representing many species.

Zoos are very popular around the world, providing wonder and education to millions of visitors a year. There are over 10,000 of these establishments around the globe, varying in size from small enclosures to the largest in the world. In the United States, there are 384. We’re going to take a look at the 10 largest zoos in the United States and give you information on the best time to visit each. There are two different ways to rank the size of a zoo – by acreage and by the number of animals that live there. In order to keep our list cohesive, we will rank ours by the number of animals they house. We’ll also include fun facts and some more information about what makes these man-made attractions so very important.

1. Henry Doorly Zoo

Glass

World’s largest desert dome at Henry Doorly in Omaha.

2. San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo sculpture "Rex's Roar"

‘Rex’s Roar’ statue in San Diego.

3. Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is a wildlife oasis in the middle of America's largest city.

A wildlife oasis in the middle of America’s largest city.

  • Animals: Over 10,000
  • Species: Over 700
  • Size: 265 acres
  • First Opened: November 8th, 1899
  • Most Popular Feature: Congo Gorilla Forest
  • Mission Statement: “Connect visitors to wildlife and inspire them to join our conservation work.”
  • Fun Fact: Established its full-time animal hospital in 1916, the first of its kind.
  • Location: 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY, 10460
  • Hours: Monday-Friday 10 am-5 pm, and Saturday-Sunday 10 am-5:30 pm

4. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The zoological park gets a lot of visitors, so be sure to get there early.

  • Animals: Over 10,000
  • Species: Over 600
  • Size: 580 acres
  • First Opened: September 17th, 1927 (est.)
  • Most Popular Feature: The Heart of Africa
  • Mission Statement: “To lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife.”
  • Fun Fact: Wildlife celebrity and zookeeper Jack Hanna was the director from 1978 to 1993!
  • Location: 4850 W Powell Road, Powell, OH, 43065
  • Hours: Hours vary, check the official zoo website for seasonal hours.

5. Minnesota Zoo

Penguins in an enclosure in Minnesota.

  • Animals: Over 4,300
  • Species: 505
  • Size: 485 acres
  • First Opened: May 22nd, 1978
  • Most Popular Feature: Discovery Bay
  • Mission Statement: “Connect people, animals, and the natural world to save wildlife.”
  • Fun Fact: The first captive-born dolphin was born here.
  • Location: 13000 Zoo Boulevard, Apple Valley, MN 55124
  • Hours: 10 am – 4 pm daily

6. Riverbanks Zoo

Riverbanks Botanical Garden

The Riverbanks Botanical Garden in West Columbia displays over 5,700 species of native and non-native plant species.

7. Zoo Miami

Spider monkey

Spider Monkey

in Miami.

8. National Zoo

National Zoo

Flowers bloom at the entrance to the National Zoo.

9. Dallas Zoo

The Dallas Zoo first opened in 1888.

  • Animals: 2,000
  • Species: 400
  • Size: 106 acres
  • First Opened: 1888
  • Most Popular Feature: Wilds of Africa
  • Mission Statement: “Engaging people and saving wildlife.”
  • Fun Fact: First zoo in the southwest and the oldest in Texas
  • Location: 650 S R.L. Thornton Fwy, Dallas, TX 75203
  • Hours: 9 am – 5 pm daily

10. Kansas City Zoo

The Kansas City Zoo features animals like sea lions.

Purpose of Zoos

Zoos aren’t just fun attractions for seeing wildlife up close. Zoos dedicate themselves to the protection and conservation of wildlife through a scope of education and awareness, research, fundraising efforts, and ethical breeding programs that revitalize endangered populations.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums plays an integral role in upholding these values in all of their accredited zoos. Accredited facilities hold themselves to a scientifically-based standard that encompasses concern for animal welfare, access to veterinary medicine and care, conservation, rehabilitation, and education. This rigorous standard works to ensure the safety of all animals kept at zoos and aquariums in the association’s network.

Through species management and survival plans, these zoos work diligently to monitor and preserve animal populations – especially those endangered or facing a risk of extinction. The success of these programs is clear, and a great example is the rehabilitation of the California condor. Condors were on the brink of extinction in 1982, with only 22 remaining birds. Through the collaborative efforts of a variety of organizations, including the San Diego Zoo, their population has grown to over 400 birds. Without the assistance of zoos and aquariums, this never would have been possible.

Zoos also work to restore habitats for animals. A main cause of animal endangerment is habitat loss, accounting for 85 percent of the threat to wildlife populations. By protecting and rebuilding these natural habitats, we help to secure and protect the safety of animals worldwide.

Are Zoos Ethical?

Sleeping lion at zoo in Columbia, South Carolina

A large

lion

naps in a zoo enclosure.

It is important to acknowledge the ethical implications of keeping wild animals in captivity. A variety of individuals and organizations have spoken out against zoos, voicing concerns about animal welfare, cruelty and abuse, and the emotional and physical impacts of life in captivity on animals. It’s sad but true – there are many roadblocks and complications to ensuring that zoos remain ethical and safe, and a tragic history of abuse at some of these facilities leads many to condemn them as a whole.

However, we must not ignore the importance of zoos in protecting our planet and the organisms living here. Ever-raising standards of care protect wildlife from the harms of the past and work to ensure its survival in the future. Questioning and researching the practices of these establishments is integral to upholding these values. It is through activism and partnership with these organizations that we can learn how to best interact with the world around us – and change it for the better.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit zoos is on weekdays when there is less visitor traffic. A crowded zoo is not as fun of an experience for visitors or for the animals, and you will have a much better time visiting on quieter days. Further, animals are more active in the mornings and in the late afternoon and evening. Get to the zoo early to have the best chance of seeing well-rested and relaxed animals that are more likely to be moving around and interacting with each other. There are other advantages to visiting in the morning. On hot days, animals are more active during the cooler hours of the morning. Many zoos feed their animals in the morning, as well, and you’ll have a higher chance of seeing them eating!

If you can’t make it to the zoo in the morning, try for the late afternoon. The animals might be more tired and reclusive, but foot traffic often slows down at the end of the day and gives you a better chance at getting a good look at the animals and exhibits.

Zoo vs. Safari Park: What’s the Difference?

You’ll notice that we have not listed any safari parks on our top 10, and this is for good reason. Zoos and safari parks are different. Zoos showcase animals in a variety of ways, but most commonly construct enclosed environments for their wildlife. These enclosures mimic native habitats and offer many different angles for viewers to observe the animals from. They also allow the zoo to keep a larger variety of species – the specialized build of each enclosure gives animals from every continent a comfortable and temperate environment. One downside is that these enclosures have more limited space for the animals.

Safari parks are much larger than zoos by acreage, and they do not use the same enclosure type. Animals in safari parks roam free across large, open enclosures. Visitors drive their cars or ride trolleys through these open safaris and witness animals living in larger habitats. This structure limits the number of different animals you can see when you visit but lets you observe them behaving more naturally. Safari parks also commonly double as areas for population rehabilitation – the larger spaces encourage healthy cohabitation and breeding.

Both of these wildlife establishments have benefits for humans and animals and play an important role in the way we understand and interact with the world around us.

Summary of the 10 Largest Zoos in the United States

Zoo RankTotal Number of AnimalsLocation (State)
1. Henry Doorly Zoo17,000Nebraska
2. Columbus Zoo10,000Ohio
3. Bronx Zoo10,000New York
4. Minnesota Zoo4,500Minnesota
5. San Diego Zoo14,000California
6. Riverbanks Zoo3,000South Carolina
7. National Zoo2,700Washington, D.C.
8. Zoo Miami2,500Florida
9. Dallas Zoo2,000Texas
10. Kansas City Zoo1,700Missouri


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About the Author

Telea Dodge is an animal enthusiast and nature fiend with a particular interest in teaching a sense of community and compassion through interactions with the world at large. Carrying a passion for wild foraging, animal behaviorism, traveling, and music, Telea spends their free time practicing their hobbies while exploring with their companion dog, Spectre.

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