The Largest Zoo in the United States

Lately, people have started developing mixed opinions about zoos, debating whether or not wild animals should be snatched away from their habitats and kept locked up in these unnatural environments. Whatever your opinion about them, you can’t deny that visiting zoos has been a fun family pastime for decades. We believe that zoos are essential for the conservation of animals as it is through zoos and aquariums that we visit many different animals up close. To gain favor from the public, zoos must give the animals enough space and habitat to roam around in.

And if you’ve been looking for a zoo that ticks all those boxes and goes above and beyond that when it comes to conservation efforts for its animals, you’ve landed on the right page.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is where you can go and look at your favorite animals up close without feeling guilty.

This is undeniably the largest zoo in the United States. It is arguably the flag bearer when it comes to educating the masses about the animals that exist in this world, both on land and in the sea.
This article will discuss the various activities and locations within the largest zoo in the United States in great detail. So, without any further ado, let’s get straight into it.

Introducing The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Regarding the area, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium competes well with Disneyland’s Animal Kingdom, The Wilds Zoo, Zoo Miami and Lion Country Safari. 

This incredible zoo hosts a total of 10,000 animals, from over 600 different animal species. It’s divided into various detailed sections that each house animals from a specific region in the world. 

Add to that the plethora of different activities carried out around the area all year round, and you’ve got one of the liveliest zoos in the world that deserves to be explored in greater detail. 

History of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has a pretty rich history dating to 1927, when the place was first established as the Columbus Zoological Gardens. Eventually, as the years went by, this zoo evolved and grew, expanding its collection of animals and becoming a world-class attraction. 

However, the real turning point in the zoo’s history came in 1978, when Jack Hanna was appointed the director. Under Hanna’s leadership, the zoo underwent a series of renovations and improvements, including the addition of new exhibits and habitats. 

Establishing new conservation programs was always at the forefront of his vision. A vision for which he even created an education and outreach center. Shortly afterwards, in 1984, the zoo was renamed the Columbus Zoo, and in 1991 it was relocated to its current location in Powell, Ohio. This new location came with acres of extra space, which Hanna utilized to create new habitats and attractions, expanding on its already impressive size and area. 

Today, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of Ohio’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting over 2 million visitors annually.

Size and Area

The largest zoo in the United States is located in Powell, Ohio, a northern suburb of Columbus. It covers a whopping 580 acres of land. It is worth mentioning that the zoo is based on 406 acres, with the rest being taken up by other recreational facilities and exhibitions in the area. 

Animals at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Zoos with the widest variety of animals are always the most popular among the public as it ensures that a visit could help common people see and connect with species they never even knew existed.

Guaranteeing a similar experience, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium boasts 10,000 different animals on-site, making it a must-see destination for tourists from all parts of the world. 

This significant zoo in the United States isn’t just home to native animals, but also animals from faraway places like Africa, the Arctic and some parts of Asia. These animals include mammals, reptiles and even deep-sea creatures that most of us don’t even know about. 

The director and his team have also made special efforts to provide a safe and secure environment for various endangered species of animals in the zoo. These include red pandas, polar bears and one of the most critically endangered species in the world, the African grey parrot. 

Programs Offered by the Zoo

In addition to boasting a huge number of animals, the team governing the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium have also made special efforts to introduce a bunch of programs for the children and general public that visit the zoo. 

Their most famous ones by far have to be their intense conservation programs displayed in detail to every visitor through exhibits and events. 

Another major program is a zoo camp, where children are invited to spend a summer tending to the many animals that live there. Lastly, the zoo also offers animal internships to college students interested in animal care and conservation. 

Recreational Activities and Exhibits

Various recreational facilities and a few exhibits cater to the area around the zoo organized by the management. These facilities include a water park, an amusement park and an eighteen-hole golf course.

Meeting the Zoo Keeper: Jungle Jack Hanna

We’ve already mentioned how the history of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium changed forever once Jack Hanna was appointed as its director. The man, also known as Jungle Jack, has served as the zoo’s director since 1978 and has been very open about all the numerous conservation efforts he’s made to create greater awareness about the importance of animals in our ecosystem.

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He’s also appeared on many popular talk shows, including the Late Show with David Letterman and Good Morning America. He has always highlighted improving animal welfare in zoos and how we can collectively try to achieve that goal.

He was also the driving force for the zoo’s expansion in its early years. Jack has actively rallied for endangered animals to be protected in a safer enclosed environment to save them from going extinct.

Main Attractions at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Zoombezi Bay

The Zoombezi Bay is a famous waterpark plus amusement park inside the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, covering about 22.7 acres of space containing 17 slides and six amusement park rides.

Individuals that visit the park also have the choice of renting one of the many cabanas in and around the bay area. Refreshments and snacks are also available at Jungle Jack’s cabin, situated near the center of the bay area.

Discovery Reef 

The largest coral reef in the United States, Discovery reef is a saltwater aquarium filled with 100,000 gallons of saltwater. 

The reef hosts over 2000 individual animals with over 80 different species. The exhibit includes a variety of colorful coral and reef fish, as well as larger species such as sand tiger sharks, green sea turtles, and spotted eagle rays.

Wild lights

A special attraction that only visitors during Christmas time can experience is the wild lights. A spectacular light show that uses millions of animated lights to display some of the more famous animals. 

People attending the nighttime event also get an up close and personal look at some animals and the opportunity to tour with Santa. 

Manatee Coast

One of the best attractions available to the wider public, located within the vicinity of the zoo, has to be the Manatee Coast. 

It is one of the only two habitats outside Florida where the endangered Florida Manatees are kept. This endangered species, along with a host of stingrays, fish and sea turtles, form the cornerstone of the Aquarium side of the Zoo. 

The coast was opened to the general public in 1999 and exhibited a 192,000-gallon indoor water habitat. 

The Zoo’s Conservation and Education Efforts

Jack Hanna has been pretty vocal about his passion for promoting and enhancing the conservation of animals, especially endangered species. 

As such, the Columbus Zoo has partnered with plenty of other zoos and businesses to extend its reach and promote the value of conserving these animals to the wider world. The nonprofit safari and conservation center, The Wilds in Ohio, is one of the many partners of the Columbus zoo that helps promote its animal education programs.

Transportation Facilities of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Like most zoos around the world, there are no cars permitted for visitors to travel around the area. However, the authorities at Columbus Zoo have provided suitable alternatives to its visitors in the form of three different modes of transportation other than walking, of course. 

These include train rides that take you through the entirety of the zoo, trams that run from specific locations, and even boat rides that take visitors across the many waterways the zoo has to offer. This is another reason why the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is recognized as one of the greatest Zoos in the world. 

Some Additional Attractions You Cannot Miss

We’ve talked a lot about what the zoo has to offer. All the various animals they’ve given a home to, including deep sea and land animals. But what we haven’t talked about enough are the attractions that surround the zoo area. Well, we thought we’d take this chance to go through some of them quickly. 

So in an effort to quickly rattle them off, here’s a list of unique attractions you can visit around the Zoo area:

  • Pirate Island
  • Amusement park rides
  • Shopping centers
  • Dining areas and restaurants

Unique Experiences and Areas in Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Adventure Cove 

The recent pandemic, which lasted from 2019 to 2021, was challenging for plenty of organizations that thrived on visitors from the outside world. However, we can only say that the authorities of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium suffered a little as they were able to complete the development of and open a new region named Adventure Cove in 2020. This area included:

Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounter Village

This unique place is a vivacious part of the cove, encouraging humans to get up close and personal with their favorite animals. As the name suggests, this interesting village creates a new interactive environment with the basic idea of bringing humans closer to wildlife.

Pool for Harbor Seals and California Sea Lion

The most recently built area in Adventure cove, this pool plays host to several water-borne species, including four harbor seals and ten California sea lions.

Stingray Bay

Stingrays are one animal species that are very difficult to get close to. In fact, it’s recommended that you don’t get close to them as they can sting you out of fear at any moment. 

However, Stingray Bay in Adventure Cove is a secure area that allows visitors to get a close look at the marvelous creatures. Other creatures that exist in the same space include Capybaras, Swift Foxes and Gopher Tortoises. 

Heart of Africa

The Heart of Africa is by far the largest single region of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The exhibit covers an area of 43 acres (17 hectares) and includes both indoor and outdoor spaces for the animals to roam. 

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This spectacular region was opened all the way back in 2014 as a means to bring the animals of Africa closer to the American population so that they could observe their magnificence more closely. Visitors who enter the region can watch African lions prowling around, a caravan of camels traveling together and even a pack of zebras living in perfect harmony with each other. 

Other animals that exist in the region include Giraffes, wildebeests, and the fastest land animal on earth, Cheetahs, all in their natural habitat. Other attractions in and around the area include a replica African Village and marketplace, as well as a safari-themed water play area for children.

Check out this video and see the best of African animals shared by BBC!

Polar Frontier

Ever wanted to visit the Arctic and see all the animals living there with your own eyes? Well, you can now do that in the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium by simply visiting the Polar Frontier region located inside. 

This exhibit was opened in 2010 and has thrived ever since, attracting huge droves of visitors every year who want to see the various animals that occupy the area. The animals who inhabit the area include arctic foxes, reindeers and arctic hares. That said, the special attraction in this area still remains the huge, majestic polar bears who eat, play and swim in this part of the zoo. 

If you’re lucky, you could even witness a polar bear catch trout and dive straight out of a plunging 167,000-gallon pond. The area itself is divided into both indoor and outdoor areas, with the outdoor areas designed to look like the Arctic Tundra. 

Australia and the Islands

A roadhouse exhibit built in 2003, Australia and the Islands has grown immensely in subsequent years now to be one of the largest regions inside the zoo. 

In 2004, the Koala Habitat, Kangaroo Walkabout and Lorikeet aviary were also added to the region. These little additions have made this space incredibly popular, with individuals flying in from around the world to see the adorable koala bears climb a tree or watch a Kangaroo hop around in its prairie.

If you’re also looking to visit the area, then just head over to the eastern bank of the Scioto River, which is located on the zoo’s far west side. 

Tours and Behind-the-Scenes Experiences

Visitors that have acquired the premium package when visiting the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium are privy to a lot more activities and behind-the-scenes experiences than most. On top of that, the authorities at the zoo also conduct special tours around various sections of the place for a specific fee. 

These tours are well worth it, as they show you parts of the zoo that you may never come across when journeying on your own. Some of these behind-the-scenes adventures you could get into include:

  • Night hikes
  • Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounter Village Experience
  • Twilight tour
  • Heart of Savannah tour
  • Red Panda experience
  • VIP Behind-the-Scenes experience
  • Sea and Sea Lion experience
  • Cheetah experience
  • Elephant Bath experience
  • Reindeer experience

Aquarium and Shores

We’ve already gone into plenty of detail about the Discovery Reef and Manatee Coasts located in the Aquarium area of the zoo. What we have yet to talk about, however, is the exceptional reptile habitat also found within the vicinity of the Aquarium area. 

So, without any further ado, let’s get straight into what you can expect to find in the reptile habitat as well. 

Reptile Habitat

Located in the Shore region of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, this is an indoor facility where many lizards, snakes, tortoises and terrapins reside. If you’re lucky, you may spot an American Alligator prowling about in search of its prey. 

The building itself is composed of several different habitats as each animal species requires a different habitat to live in and needs to be kept safe from its predators. 

Congo Expedition

The Congo Expedition, which was first opened in 2000, was the idea that caused the initial chain reaction and led to the construction of the Heart of Africa Region.

This exhibit shows an African forest region that was home to various central African rainforest animals, including gorillas, bobcats, leopards and several species of birds. 

The expedition also boasts the first gorilla ever to be born in captivity, Colo. Walk around the forest area and witness a leopard sleeping peacefully on a tree branch, pygmy chimpanzees swinging around the trees and ducks enjoying a peaceful bath in the pond.

Learn more about the Congo Expedition of the Columbus Zoo in this video!

Wrap Up

Zoos have endured criticism throughout time. But, if we take the time to examine the efforts that modern zoos are making to raise awareness, preserve habitats, and help animals, it is obvious that they are acting morally. This should also serve as a reminder that zoos are a great location for people of all ages to have fun and learn. 

We hope you enjoyed reading about the largest zoo in the United States, its history, and all the efforts they’re making to keep up with animal welfare. If you visit Ohio or live in the region, and are looking for some fun with the family, don’t forget to check out the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and everything this place has to offer!

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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