A-z - Animals

Visit America's Largest Zoo

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Few forms of entertainment can match a trip to the zoo. After all, zoos house and care for hundreds of species of animals, including exotic specimens like lions, tigers, parrots and even venomous snakes. Without zoos, most people, such as those living in large cities and remote areas where animals are scarce, would never have the opportunity to see live mountain lions or feed giraffes. While some zoos are small, others are vast areas with thousands of animals. Today, we take a look at the largest zoo in the United States.

We will discuss its location, what its mission is, and the types of animals in the zoo area.

What is a zoo?

The hairiest animal giant panda
Zoos provide resources to care for endangered species.


A zoo is a specialized facility that houses, exhibits and cares for a variety of animals. The word "zoo" was originally an abbreviation for London Zoo. Interestingly, London Zoo was the world's first official zoo, opening for research in 1828 and welcoming the public in 1847.

Since then, 10,000 zoos have opened around the world, 239 of which are AZA-accredited, according to the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Many of these locations have aviaries and safari parks where people can see unique wildlife that is hard to find elsewhere.

Asking "What is a zoo?" often results in mixed responses. Some people think they are taking advantage of beings and taking them captive. Others will insist that they are necessary and helpful for education, protection and preservation.

Rethinking the purpose of zoos

Without zoos and conservation efforts, the American bison population may never recover.

© OS Fisher/Shutterstock.com

Zoos often face various identity crises. Part of zoo operations is centered on getting people to walk through the gates and pay or donate. That means zoos have to focus on marketing, engaging with the public and keeping animals that will draw crowds. By doing this, zoos can receive valuable financial aid to help pay their staff, raise awareness, and more.

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While the first zoos were built to study animals, getting funding has been a challenge. That's why the zoo was later opened to the public to get money from their admission fees. In this way, the zoo has since operated in a kind of morally challenging territory.

Many zoos work to assist with animal research, keep endangered species alive, and care for injured animals before they are released into the wild. Successfully integrating captive-bred bison to rejuvenate their dwindling numbers in the United States. Others are zoos that profit by exhibiting animals, as a recent television series about tigers demonstrated.

However, some insist that zoos should not create spectacle. Those who care for animals study them and spearhead breeding programs to help endangered species see zoos as a means to an end. They can provide care, learn and experience first-hand many animals with many other specialists in one location.

So while the main goal of zoos seems to be to entertain people, zoos seem to be moving away from mere entertainment. At least, that's the case for nonprofit zoos. Modern zoos aim to promote education, awareness, scientific research, conservation, and increased attention to animals based on existing knowledge.

What is the largest zoo in the United States?

Aquariums near Cleveland - Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Located in Columbus, Ohio, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium offers a variety of ways to interact with the animals.

©Scott Cornell/Shutterstock.com

The largest zoo in the United States is the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, with 406.30 acres for the zoo alone and 580 acres in total. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is home to more than 7,000 animals and more than 800 species of animals.

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The zoo houses animals from all over the world, such as red pandas, giraffes, penguins, lions and wolves. The aquarium is known for housing Florida manatees as well as having the largest coral reef in the country. However, this isn't just a zoo that cares about getting people to pay for admission.

The core beliefs of this zoo revolve around ongoing conservation efforts. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium partners with several other zoos, businesses and groups for conservation and education. One of their partners is The Wilds of Ohio, a conservation center and nonprofit wildlife park with deer, zebras, bison, ostriches and more.

However, the size of The Wilds doesn't count towards the Columbus Zoo's total. Interestingly, the Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the United States. The zoo covers 265 acres and houses 4,000 animals of 650 species.

While the size pales in comparison to the number one on this list, it's still impressive. After all, the Bronx Zoo is entirely within New York City. It is one of the most densely populated places in the world.

How do we measure America's largest zoo?

We measure the largest zoos by looking at the facilities and the sheer size of the land in the traditional zoo format. While some lists say Disney's Animal Kingdom or Wilderness are the larger zoos, they are not traditional zoos. Therefore, we exclude these types of entertainment venues.

We can measure zoos in other ways, too. For example, some people want to go to the zoo with the largest number of animals. Others want to go where there are the most diverse species. Of course, the Columbus Zoo may also win the title for having the most animals at a single zoo location.

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Another measure we can consider is the largest zoo in its natural habitat. This is a zoo where animals live without cages. In that case, the North Carolina Zoo, with 500 acres of developed land, would be the largest of them all. The zoo is deeply involved in conservation and education, allowing research projects to be conducted on-site throughout the year. In any case, visiting this zoo is very interesting.

Zoos have been, and are, maligned. However, if we take a moment to look at the efforts of modern zoos to educate, protect and help animals, they are trying to do the right thing. Let this also serve as a reminder that zoos are a fun and educational place for all ages. If you are close to a zoo and want to have some fun, go to the zoo.


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Happy mother and son watching and feeding giraffe at the zoo.

© Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock.com

about the author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in various fields such as Managed Service Providers, Animals and Retail Distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading and writing.

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