For many, merely hearing this question makes their hair stand on end, however, finding the answer means a lot for many others who even enjoy the process! Is it possible at all to find a comprehensive and objective answer to the question in the title? This is one of the most controversial topics nowadays that often leads to it being shunned discreetly. The avoiding of the topic is not unintentional. Is it important at all to find the answer? It surely is, for the winners! So, let us devote some of our time to examine the matter!
Simply the Best!
It is relatively objective to be the best in the world in some aspect (or at least let us accept it as such now), as holding the record in a given category is also easy to prove. It is much more subjective to be proven the best or the most beautiful. We like contests in the world of zoos as we do in other areas of our life. Let’s admit it: we like to be the first or the best in something!
Which is the Best Zoo of the World?
As stated above, there are not many more difficult questions than this one. This is a sort of never-ending yet grateful dispute, that is also important at the same time since visitors and the press are very much interested in it! Tripadvisor has recently conducted a poll under the title of „The Best Zoo of the World”. This site is a dynamically developing portal for opinions related to tourism and it attracts a huge number of visitors. Participants of each sector are being rated by their visitors and guests based on their own experiences, who eventually vote on them – often being brutally honest yet fair…
There is a zoo that keeps winning these polls or is at least in the vanguard each time it is assessed. The institution or one of its employees received around 50 awards and acknowledgements (including several international ones) in the past 20 years. Most recently they have won the award of the best zoo of the world in the poll mentioned above. 275 institutions have been rated based on millions of assessments. The happy winner of the prize was the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium of Nebraska. It is also an interesting fact that three of the first four zoos can be found in the United States.
1. Henry Doorly Zoo (USA, Nebraska)
2. San Diego Zoo (USA, California)
3. Loro Parque (Spain)
4. St. Louis Zoo (USA, Missouri)
5. Singapore Zoo (Singapore)
6. Chester Zoo (United Kingdome)
7. Zoo Praha (Prague, Czech Republic)
8. Tiergarten Schoenbrunn (Vienna, Austria)
9. Bioparc Valencia (Valencia, Spain)
10. Gramado Zoo (Gramado, Brazil)
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
Before going on with analysing the question in the title, it is seemly that we introduce the zoo that has achieved such popularity among visitors.
The institution was opened in 1894 under the name of Riverview Park Zoo. It is one of the biggest zoos in the world regarding land area with its 53 hectares (130 acres). More than 17000 specimens of 962 species are visited by 1.6-1.7 million people a year on the average.
The origin of the extraordinary name of the zoo is that Margaret Hitchcock Doorly very generously donated 750,000 USD to the park in 1963. The zoo adopted the name Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in accordance with her request after her husband in 2012. The institution is a member of AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and has received more than 25 million visitors from all around the world in the past 40 years.
A few „mosts” and „firsts” as a matter of curiosity:
- The first artificially inseminated tiger was born here in 1991.
- The birth of the first artificially inseminated gaur calf was also celebrated here in 1993.
- The Desert Dome, the biggest indoor desert exhibit of the world was built here (2002).
- The title of „The Largest Zoo in the World” (Touropia.com, 2012)
Under the Dome
The zoo is divided into several thematic sections (e.g.: Hubbard Gorilla Valley, Durham Family Bear Canyon, Lied Jungle, Scott Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium, Garden of the Senses and more than a dozen others) that meet all the requirements of modern zoos regarding both the visitors and the professionals. Unique solutions and a multitude of rare species appear in the exhibits along with an impressive number of architectural specialties.
There is a building that often represents the whole zoo on its own. The best known spectacle of the zoo is a really world-famous icon that appears in the logo of the park as a schematic drawing. It is called the Desert Dome and it is mostly known by the fact that it is the largest complex in the world to exhibit desert wildlife.
We stand in awe beholding it since we often do not even think about how diverse wildlife can be found in a harsh environment like a desert. It is an extraordinary case that a zoo would undertake the task of collecting and exhibiting the special wildlife of any given desert of our planet. The goal of the Desert Dome is no less than to show us the enchanting flora and fauna of three deserts (the Namib Desert of Southern Africa, the Red Center of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest United States). Nearly 50 reptile and amphibian species live here along with countless mammals and birds, but fish and arthropods are not omitted either.
In the Reflection of Data
The exhibit opened in 2002, its floor area is 84,000 square feet (1.9 acres; 7,800 m2). The upper floor houses the above mentioned Desert Dome (42,000 sq feet), below that the complex called the Kingdoms of the Night is located in an area of the same size. The latter opened in 2003 and it exhibits nocturnal animals.
The building itself is 137 feet tall (approximately 42 m). Its gigantic dome consists of an unbelievable 1760 acrylic windows. It is needless to say that practically every important environmental parameter (sunlight intensity, temperature, humidity, etc…) is being controlled by computer.
Prominent among its inhabitants are the diverse multitude of venomous snake species (favourites of the visitors), the dwarves of birds: the hummingbirds, the wallabies, the children’s favourite meerkats (Suricata suricatta) the ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) and the swift foxes (Vulpes velox). The favourite rarities of many of us should neither be omitted from the list: the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) and the beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum). These latter ones are not exhibited very often in zoos; it is a delightful moment to see them even for experienced zoo professionals.
Kingdoms of the Night
The section exhibiting nocturnal life has been mentioned before. It is located under the Desert Dome and forms an integral part of it. Perhaps it will be no surprise that it is the largest of its kind in the world, as well. Caves, aquariums and a swamp exhibit (also the largest indoor swamp among those in the zoos of the world) make up the wonderful world that unfolds before our eyes. Our path also crosses a real eucalyptus forest, and while we gain insight into the adventurous evenings of Australian wildlife, we participate in a refreshing aroma therapy, too.
There are real specialties here, like Madagascar’s characteristic predator, the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), the aardvark (Orycteropus afer) with its amazing appearance, or a genuine zoological oddity, the blind cave fish (Astyanax mexicanus). The list could go on for long, since there is a lot to see there.
A terrace and a conference room also belong to the two-storey building thus realising the quartet of recreation, education, research and conservation, which are the main goals of Omaha’s Zoo.
It is possible yet that Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is not the best zoo in the world, it is also possible that all these grandiose titles are merely the results of lobbying. It is even possible that often money is the only thing needed for creating and running good zoos. But one thing is for sure: it is impossible to operate a good zoo without well-prepared, competent and enthusiastic professionals nowadays. Every zoo is special and unique in its own way. There are good and bad zoos, those that are dear for us and those that cause resentment. Comparing them is an impossible mission both theoretically and practically. However, based on all these, it is beyond doubt that excellent professionals are working in Nebraska who are clearly worthy of wearing their titles, since this is a good zoo! Let us agree that this is a zoo that you must see before you die!
Sources and further information: