In the past, animal parks showcased glum animals trapped behind bars, pacing back and forth and sometimes causing visitors to wonder whether zoological facilities are a good thing or not. However, the modern zoological exhibit aims to be as close to a natural habitat as possible, offering visitors the ability to get up close to exotic animals, which don’t appear to be caged but are unable to leap their barricades nevertheless. As Charles Stovall of Walt Disney World says, “We don’t think of it as just a zoo… it’s a full-fledged theme park.” In fact, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one of the most famous zoos in the world and has inspired a new ilk of animal exhibits.
It should come as no surprise that America houses many of the world’s best animal habitats. In New York City, the 265-acre Bronx Zoo is home to over 6,000 animals, many of which are on the endangered species list. The Bronx has been operating its animal center since 1889 as the largest of the metropolitan animal parks and was the first place to house (and breed) rare snow leopards. Additionally, it’s the first park to house a predator-prey animal exhibit, where lions and gazelles are separated merely by dry moats, and it was also the first zoological center to host an educational program. Visitors love the Wild Asia tramway monorail, the indoor JungleWorld display and the 6.5-acre Congo Monkey Forest, which is the largest man-made rainforest in the world. Guests will also see a number of babies at this bustling breeding facility, including dwarf mongoose, lemur, okapi, sea lion, rhino, lion and pit viper species.
Another one of the top animal parks to visit state-side is the San Diego Zoo in California, one of the largest and most progressive zoos in the world, housing over 4,000 animals. Here visitors will find the largest display of giant pandas outside of China. Other highlights include the polar bear plunge, the okapis in Ituri Forest and the spacious elephant habitat. San Diego also has the world’s only albino koala, the largest number of New Guinea singing dogs in one place and an “escape artist” orangutan named Ken Allen. In addition to this expansive park, there is also the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which was created for endangered animals and rare species to breed and proliferate in an expansive state-of-the-art park without cages. Their free-range exhibits include free-range enclosures that house such animals as cheetahs, antelopes, lions, giraffes, okapis, elephants, zebras, Przewalski’s horses, rhinos and bonobos.
There are also a number of European animal parks that make the list of the world’s best foreign zoos. The Basel Zoo in Switzerland hosts more than 6,000 animals and 600 species, including the dwarf hippopotami, scarab beetles and Nile crocodiles, as well as a number of baby animals born at their breeding program, such as cheetahs, Indian rhinoceros, pygmy hippos and Somali wild asses. Beauval Zoo in France began in 1980 as an aviary with 2,000 birds but later introduced over 4,000 exotic animals like red kangaroos, West Indian manatees, tarsiers, toucans, white lions, white leopards and gorillas.
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