Few forms of entertainment can match going to the zoo. After all, zoos house and care for hundreds of animals, including exotic specimens like lions, tigers, parrots, and even venomous snakes. Without zoos, most people, like those living in large cities with few animals and people located in remote areas, would never have the opportunity to see a live mountain lion or feed a giraffe. While some zoos are quite small, others are sprawling areas with thousands of animals. Today, we’re going to look at the largest zoo in the United States.
We’ll talk about where it’s located, what its mission is, and the sorts of animals they have in the zoo area.
What Are Zoos?
Zoos are specialized facilities that house, showcase, and care for various animals. The term “zoo” began as an abbreviation of London Zoological Gardens. Interestingly, the London Zoo was the first official zoo in the world, opening in 1828 for studies and welcoming the public starting in 1847.
Since then, 10,000 zoos have opened up throughout the world, and 239 of them have AZA accreditation, based on information from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Many of these locations have aviaries and safaris where people can see unique wildlife that is difficult to find anywhere else.
Asking “what are zoos?” will often lead to different responses. Some people see them as taking advantage of living beings and holding them captive. Others will insist that they are necessary and helpful for education, protection, and conservation.
Recontextualizing the Purpose of Zoos
Zoos have often faced an identity crisis of sorts. A part of zoo operations is centered on getting people to step through the gates and pay or donate money. That means the zoo has to focus on marketing, engaging with the public, and housing animals that will draw crowds. By doing so, zoos gain valuable financial aid to help them pay workers, raise awareness, and more.
Although the first zoo was built for studying animals, getting funding has always been a challenge. That is why the zoo later opened to the public to get funding from their admission fees. In that way, zoos have since operated in a sort of morally challenging area.
Many zoos are dedicated to aiding in the study of animals, keeping endangered species alive, and caring for injured creatures before they can be released into the wild. Successfully integrating captive-bred bison has reinvigorated their waning numbers in the United States. Others are menageries to generate profits by showcasing animals, as a recent television series about tigers has illustrated.
However, some people insist that zoos should be less about creating a spectacle. The people that care for the animals study them and lead the way on breeding programs to help endangered species see zoos as a means to an end. They can provide care, learn, and get hands-on with many animals at a single location with many other experts.
So, although it may seem that the primary goal of zoos is to entertain people, zoos seem to be trending away from mere entertainment. At least, that is the case with non-profit zoos. Modern zoos are geared toward promoting education, raising awareness, scientific research, conservation, and increasing the level of attention offered to animals based on available knowledge.
What is the Largest Zoo in the United States?
The largest zoo in the United States is Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, measuring 406.30 acres for the zoo alone and 580 acres in total. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has more than 7,000 animals and over 800 species of animals living within its borders.
The zoo houses animals from all over the globe like red pandas, giraffes, penguins, lions, and wolves. The aquarium is famous for housing Florida manatees as well as for having the largest coral reef in the country. Yet, this isn’t only a zoo that cares about getting people to pay their admission.
The core beliefs of this zoo revolve around ongoing conservation work. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is partnered with several other zoos, businesses, and groups for conservation and education. One of their partners is The Wilds in Ohio, a conservation center and non-profit safari that has deer, zebras, bison, ostriches, and much more.
However, the measure of The Wilds is not added to the total acreage of the Columbus Zoo. As an interesting aside, the Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the United States. The land at this zoo measures 265 acres, and the zoo is home to 4,000 animals of 650 species.
While that size pales in comparison to the first-place holder on this list, it’s still impressive. After all, the Bronx Zoo is completely inside New York City. That’s one of the most densely populated places in the world.
How Did We Measure the Largest Zoo in the United States?
We measured the largest zoo by looking at the sheer area of the facilities and land in a traditional zoo format. While some lists say that Disney’s Animal Kingdom or The Wilds are larger zoos, they aren’t traditional zoos. Thus, we cut those types of entertainment venues out of the running.
We can measure zoos in other ways, too. For example, some people want to go to zoos with the largest number of animals. Others want to go to ones with the greatest number of different species. Of course, the Columbus Zoo may also win the title for having the largest number of animals in a single zoo location as well.
Another type of measurement that we could consider is the largest natural habitat zoo. This is a type of zoo where the animals live cage-free. In that case, the North Carolina Zoo, with 500 developed acres of land, would be the biggest of them all. This zoo is deeply involved with conservation and education, allowing research projects to commence on-site throughout the year. At any rate, this zoo is very interesting to visit.
Zoos have been maligned in the past and present. Yet, if we take some time to look at the effort that modern zoos are making to educate, conserve, and help animals, it’s clear they are trying to do the right thing. Let this also serve as a reminder that zoos can be a fun and educational place for people of all ages. If you’re close to one and want something fun to do, head to the zoo.