Best Zoo Exhibit (2015)


Warmer weather makes spring the perfect season for going to the zoo, and USA TODAY 10Best went on a quest to find the best single exhibit in the nation. After four weeks of voting, we have a winner!

  • Big Cat Crossing

    Big Cat Crossing
    Philadelphia Zoo

    Spring 2014 saw the opening of Big Cat Crossing at the Philadelphia Zoo. Part of the facility's Zoo360 animal exploration system, Big Cat Crossing features a 330-foot mesh pathway extending above the main visitor path from First Niagara Big Cat Falls. This allows the zoo's feline residents – lions, pumas, tigers and jaguars, among others – to exercise their curiosity and roam. Witnessing a tiger passing 14-feet overhead is an experience quite unlike any other.
    Photo courtesy of J. Fusco for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

  • Arctic Ring of Life

    Arctic Ring of Life
    Detroit Zoo

    The Detroit Zoo's Arctic Ring of Life exhibit is the largest polar bear exhibit in North America and also provides one of the best habitats for the bears. The crowning jewel of this $14.9 million dollar exhibit is the 70-foot-long, 12-foot-wide and 8-foot-tall clear tunnel that allows visitors to observe polar bears and seals (separated by a transparent barrier) swim above and around them.
    Photo courtesy of Donna Terek / Detroit Zoo

  • Giants of the Savanna

    Giants of the Savanna
    Dallas Zoo

    At 11 acres, Giants of the Savanna is one of the largest animal exhibits at the Dallas Zoo. Within this award-winning habitat, animals like African elephants, giraffes, zebra, ostrich and impala at times share the same space, allowing them to interact much like they would in the wild – to the delight of observing visitors. The Dallas Zoo was the first in the U.S. to replicate this natural integration. Lions and cheetahs enjoy their own slice of the savannah at Predator Rock within the Giants of the Savanna exhibit.
    Photo courtesy of Dallas Zoo

  • Museum of Living Art

    Museum of Living Art
    Fort Worth Zoo

    Considered one of the world's best herpetariums, the Museum of Living Art at the Fort Worth Zoo showcases more than 100 species of reptiles and amphibians in a stunning 30,000-square-foot facility. Hand-painted murals line the walls, and the habitats for some of the world's most exotic and endangered creatures fill the gallery-like space with living, breathing works of art. Visitor favorites include North America's largest saltwater crocodile (measuring 15 feet), a 15.5-foot Burmese python, a king cobra and yellow-spotted climbing toads.
    Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Zoo

  • Russia's Grizzly Coast

    Russia's Grizzly Coast
    Minnesota Zoo

    Visitors to Russia's Grizzly Coast at the Minnesota Zoo are transported to one of the world's last true wilderness areas, the Russian Far East, where grizzly bears forage and swim, much like they would in their natural environment. Besides coming nose-to-nose with some of the world's biggest mammals, guests have the opportunity to observe Amur leopards, sea otters and wild boar within the exhibit.
    Photo courtesy of Minnesota Zoo

  • Sea Lion Sound

    Sea Lion Sound
    St. Louis Zoo

    The 1.5-acre Sea Lion Sound at the St. Louis Zoo is about as close as you can come to swimming with sea lions without actually jumping in the water. At the heart of the exhibit, home to 9 California sea lions and a harbor seal, is a 35-foot-long underwater viewing tunnel where visitors can see the marine mammals swimming around them. The exhibit's 881-seat amphitheater hosts the First Bank Sea Lion Show where the sea lions show off their amazing abilities.
    Photo courtesy of David Merritt/Saint Louis Zoo

  • Congo Gorilla Forest

    Congo Gorilla Forest
    Bronx Zoo

    The Congo Gorilla Forest at the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo features a 6.5-acre habitat for species found in the Congo Basin, including red river hogs, okapi, mandrill and colobus monkeys, but the most famous residents by far are the two troops of Western Lowland Gorillas. After observing the primates in their habitat that mimics the African jungle, visitors get to choose which WCS field conservation program in Africa their $5 admission fee (included in the zoo's total experience ticket) goes toward.
    Photo courtesy of Julie Larsen Maher (c) WCS

  • Desert Loop Trail

    Desert Loop Trail
    Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

    As visitors hike along the Desert Loop Trail at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, boundaries between human and animal seem to fade into the scenery, creating the illusion of hiking through the wilds of the Desert Southwest. When a coyote or javelina peaks around a Saguaro cactus, it feels like you're encountering the animals in the wild.
    Photo courtesy of Jay Pierstorff

  • African Elephant Crossing-Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

    African Elephant Crossing-Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

    Guests at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo come nose to trunk with some of the zoo's biggest residents at the LEED-certified African Elephant Crossing. This 5-acre exhibit, landscaped to resemble lightly wooded African grassland, allows elephants to wander between two large habitats filled with animal-friendly features, like bathing pools and sand beds. Vantage points throughout the exhibit bring visitors to within 15 feet of the animals, and at the Sydell L. Miller Elephant Care & Visitor Center, guests can witness what goes into caring for these gentle giants firsthand.
    Photo courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

  • Animal Care Center

    Animal Care Center
    Busch Gardens Tampa

    At the Animal Care Center at Busch Gardens Tampa, animal lovers of all ages get to observe – and sometimes take part in – the animal care experience. In this state-of-the-art facility, park veterinarians conduct treatments, from x-rays to surgeries, in guest view, educating visitors on what goes in to keeping the park's 12,000 animal residents representing more than 300 species healthy. Those who can't make it to the Sunshine State can tune in to the park's new TV show "The Wildlife Docs" to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Animal Care Center.
    Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens Tampa

It was a well-fought race battle between the top two zoo exhibits, and the finish was as close as can be. In the end Philadelphia Zoo's innovative Big Cat Crossing took home top honors. This exhibit, which debuted in spring 2014, features a 330-foot mesh pathway extending above the main visitor path, so lucky visitors might get to see a tiger strolling over their heads.

Runner-up for Best Zoo Exhibit was Detroit Zoo's Arctic Ring of Life, the largest polar bear exhibit in North America, where zoo goers can see polar bears and sea lions swim above and around them.

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

  1. Big Cat Crossing - Philadelphia Zoo
  2. Arctic Ring of Life - Detroit Zoo
  3. Giants of the Savanna - Dallas Zoo
  4. Museum of Living Art - Fort Worth Zoo
  5. Russia’s Grizzly Coast - Minnesota Zoo
  6. Sea Lion Sound - St. Louis Zoo
  7. Congo Gorilla Forest - Bronx Zoo
  8. Desert Loop Trail - Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
  9. African Elephant Crossing-Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
  10. Animal Care Center - Busch Gardens Tampa

Additional nominated exhibits included Elephant Odyssey at the San Diego Zoo, Benson Predator Ridge at the Denver Zoo, Monkey Village at the Phoenix Zoo, World of the Insect at the Cincinnati Zoo, African Plains at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Desert Dome/Kingdoms of the Night at the Henry Doorly Zoo, Polar Frontier at the Columbus Zoo, The O Line at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, Discovery Tram Tour at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park and Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando.

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Debra Erickson (International Zoo Educators Association) and Alan Sironen (Zoological Association of America) were chosen based on their extensive expertise.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners. The contest was promoted on 10Best and USA TODAY.

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Debra Erickson

Debra Erickson

Debra Erickson

Alan Sironen

Alan Sironen

Alan Sironen