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Best zoo in North America? Readers choose Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

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Winning zoo is home to famous Fiona the hippo

North America is home to hundreds of zoological parks, including more than 200 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Short of heading out into the world's wild places, nothing beats a visit to the zoo to foster an appreciation for the striking animal diversity of our planet. We asked a panel of travel experts to nominate their favorite North American AZA-accredited zoos – facilities that excel in the fields of animal care and enrichment, while also facilitating meaningful interactions between animals and human visitors. For the past four weeks, 10Best readers have been voting for their favorites.

  • Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
    Cincinnati

    The Cincinnati Zoo (one of the oldest zoos in the nation) brings visitors nose-to-nose with a range of exciting animals. Guests can view hippos underwater (including superstar Fiona), pop up in a bubble amid meerkats or watch cheetahs racing at top speeds. The multi-sensory Night Hunters exhibit hosts cats and other nocturnal predators, while Manatee Springs seeks the long-term conservation of the Florida manatee by encouraging guests to observe these gentle giants.
    Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

  • Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
    Omaha, Neb.

    Continued investments have allowed Henry Doorly Zoo to continue to offer one-of-a-kind exhibits to guests, including the world’s largest indoor desert where arid plants and animals – meerkat, peccaries, quail, gila monster, death adders, rattlesnakes and inland taipan, the wodl’s most venomous snake – are visible inside a geodesic dome year round in the heart of the Midwest. The $73 million African Grasslands exhibit features 28 acres of habitats and exhibit spaces for giraffe, elephants, lions, cheetahs and sable antelope.
    Photo courtesy of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

  • Saint Louis Zoo
    St. Louis

    Situated within the nation’s largest urban park, the free-to-the-public St. Louis Zoo features a stunning diversity of animals – more than 600 species in total. The zoo is divided into six zones, including Lakeside Crossing where the award-winning Sea Lion Sound combines a stellar exhibit experience with educational presentations and shows. 
    Photo courtesy of Ray Meibaum / Saint Louis Zoo

  • Fort Worth Zoo
    Fort Worth

    Established in 1909, the Fort Worth Zoo is the oldest continuously operated zoo in Texas and home to more than 540 animal species from around the world. More than 100 of those species are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, and 68 are endangered or threatened. An international leader in Asian elephant conservation, the zoo recently opened the all new African Savannah – home to giraffe, zebras, hippos and black rhinos. An additional 10 acres of new exhibit space are in the works.
    Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Zoo

  • Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
    Columbus, Ohio

    Wildlife from eight regions around the world, including Australia, the Congo, Asia and the Arctic, call the Columbus Zoo home. The zoo is one of only two facilities outside of Florida to display manatees, visible in the Manatee Coast area alongside alligators, snapping turtles, hellbenders and snakes.
    Photo courtesy of Greater Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
    Colorado Springs

    The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs connects visitors with more than 750 animals representing 170 species from all corners of the globe. The African Rift Valley exhibit is home to the largest zoo giraffe herd in the world, as well as Red River hogs, meerkats, African lions and Colobus monkeys. Rocky Mountain Wild hosts regional species, like moose, grizzly bears, mountain lions, river otters, porcupine, Mexican gray wolves, bald eagles and lynx. A ski lift offers stellar views over Colorado Springs.
    Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

  • Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
    Columbia, S.C.

    Columbia's 170-acre Riverbanks Zoo & Garden houses more than 2,000 animals in naturalistic habitats free of bars and cages. Throughout its 40-year history, the zoo has earned many awards and recognition for its breeding programs for animals like the Toco toucan, Bali mynah and black howler monkeys. The zoo also participates in 70 of the Species Survival Plans of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / undefined undefined

  • Memphis Zoo
    Memphis

    The 70-acre Memphis Zoo is home to more than 4,500 animals representing 500 species from around the world, including a famous pair of giant pandas, Ya Ya and Le Le, who live in a 3-acre CHINA facility. The popular Northwest Passage exhibit houses sea lions, polar bears, bald eagles and black bears, while Teton Trek displays grizzlies, timber wolves, elk and trumpeter swans. A new hippo exhibit recently opened, complete with land and below water viewing areas.
    Photo courtesy of Troy Glasgow / Copyright © Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau 2011

  • Audubon Zoo
    New Orleans

    Situated in historic uptown New Orleans, the Audubon Zoo features a spectacular recreation of the Louisiana Swamp – an exhibit linking the region’s distinct Cajun culture with the plants and animals of the surrounding habitats. Visitors get the chance to see black bears, alligators, red foxes, blue crabs, water snakes and a host of other animals with a view into the daily lives of those who rely on the swamp for a living. The zoo recently debuted a nocturnal bat house and a new troop of Western lowland gorillas; an updated lion exhibit is set to open in May 2019.
    Photo courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute

  • Dallas Zoo
    Dallas

    The Dallas Zoo is the largest zoo in Texas with 106 acres. Founded in 1888, the zoo features 2,000 animals, representing 430 species (not including fish), of which approximately 150 are part of the AZA Species Survival Plans. The Dallas Zoo’s world-renowned Giants of the Savanna habitat is the only one in the nation to mix elephants with giraffes and other savanna animals in the same habitat. The Dallas Zoo is dedicated to creating a better world for animals, and has a wildlife conservation mission that far exceeds Texas.
    Photo courtesy of Dallas Zoo

The top 10 winners in the category Best Zoo are as follows:

  1. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden - Cincinnati
  2. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium - Omaha, Neb.
  3. Saint Louis Zoo - St. Louis
  4. Fort Worth Zoo - Fort Worth
  5. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium - Columbus, Ohio
  6. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo - Colorado Springs
  7. Riverbanks Zoo & Garden - Columbia, S.C.
  8. Memphis Zoo - Memphis
  9. Audubon Zoo - New Orleans
  10. Dallas Zoo - Dallas

A panel of experts (listed below) partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote.

Congratulations to all these winning zoos!

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