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Some of the World's Most Interesting Zoos

12 min read
Published on Oct 18, 2017
Guest Contributor
By Guest Contributor

There are, according to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, over 10,000 zoos around the world, so while travelling, the opportunities to visit one are innumerable. Whether as an adult or a child, most people love zoos. But first, what is the definition of a zoo? I quote from one source, "An establishment that maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public." Fair enough, and did you know that London, England introduced the first zoo? London Zoo in Regent’s Park opened to the public in 1847. Most people enjoy animals. I have a friend who loved animals so much that he found himself a job transferring animals worldwide from one zoo to another. His role was to make sure the animals involved left their place of origin and arrived safely at their destination. For the rest of us who enjoy animals and wildlife, I think we don’t need to go that far. I have chosen a few zoos around the world which are exceptional, different, and even unusual.

Zoos in the South Pacific

I remember reading somewhere that the most dangerous animal and reptile life exists in Australia. These include venomous snakes, deadly spiders, snapping crocodiles, and stinging jellyfish. Don’t be put off by this. You can enjoy very safe visits to some excellent animal sanctuaries on an Australian vacation. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, near Brisbane, is recognized as the world’s oldest and largest koala sanctuary founded in 1927. Naturally, the koala bear is the star attraction, but there are other animals to enjoy including Tasmanian devils, wombats, echidnas, platypus, and various species of reptiles. In fact, there are over 130 animals who roam freely. You can hold a koala bear while your nearest and dearest take pictures for the family album. I held one here once and I got the distinct impression my koala would rather be eating eucalyptus leaves. However, it was cuddly!

Sleeping koala on eucalyptus tree, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, Australia
Sleeping koala on eucalyptus tree at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Another animal sanctuary that I have enjoyed in Australia was the Cleland Conservation Park, just 30 minutes away from Adelaide in South Australia. It was here that I was given a package of nibbles and told to head into the area where the kangaroos held forth. I was kept very busy feeding them as they ate out of my hand. You can’t get closer to them than that. I also met up with some Tasmanian devils who reminded me of very large groundhogs. What I particularly like about this place was that you are totally free to roam around as you please. The Alice Springs Desert Park in Australia’s Northern Territory contains rare and endangered animals and plants native to the Australian desert. One of the highlights here on an Australian vacation is the Birds of Prey Show in the Nature Theatre, where the birds are totally free in their natural environment. You will see them come in and fly directly and immediately over your head - quite an experience. There are walking trails to choose from which meander through three desert areas. The Nocturnal House here will introduce you to snakes and lizards and many other rare and endangered animals like the bilby and the rufous hare wallaby. The Wellington Zoo can be visited on a New Zealand vacation. It has been voted one of the 10 top zoos in the world. It is over 100 years old and is known for its contribution to conservation and breeding programmes for endangered species. One of these is the Sumatran tiger. In the state-of-the-art animal hospital here, the inhabitants include a one-legged kiwi bird and some rescued Little Blue Penguins. Other animals residing in the zoo include red pandas, lions, cheetahs and lemurs.

Among the hot springs and mud pools of Rotorua, you will find the Rainbow Springs Nature Park, which is situated among the native forests here. It is home to New Zealand’s most successful kiwi hatchery. By nature, kiwi birds are shy creatures and only appear when it is dark. The nocturnal kiwi enclosure is the place to learn more about New Zealand’s iconic bird. If in Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand, the Kiwi Birdlife Park may appeal. In its 5 acre park, it contains many of the country’s rarest and endangered birds and reptiles. This includes brown kiwis, tuataras, and rainbow lorikeets. You can get to feed New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, and also find out how the conservation of these animals is developed.

Zoos in Asia

The largest high-altitude zoo in India is the Darjeeling Zoo (Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park), which specializes in breeding animals for alpine conditions. This includes endangered animals such as snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, Siberian tigers, and red pandas. What is sad is that there is a fear the animals may face a threat due to the rising temperatures (climate change) in the region. It also contains over 200 species of trees, shrub, and fungi. Interestingly, the park is one of very few stretches of natural forest that have remained largely untouched in the area.

Red panda at Darjeeling Zoo, India
Red panda at Darjeeling Zoo

Also, while on a trip to India, you can visit the home of one of the creepier zoos, namely the Chennai Snake Park. This contains all of our favourite snakes such as adders, pythons, vipers, cobras, boa constrictors, and water snakes. I understand that in the park, located in Chennai, there are snake charmers so that would make any visitor feel safe I’m sure! To quote the park’s information service, "The Park promotes knowledge among the public on reptiles and amphibians and dispel the widespread erroneous beliefs about snakes in particular." Maybe, maybe not. If snakes aren’t enough for you, there are also crocodiles and lizards plus turtles and chameleons. Let’s move on to something more endearing at the next featured zoo.

We all love pandas and one of the best places to see them on a China vacation is the Wolong National Nature Reserve, near Chengdu. At one time, more than 100 pandas resided here. Now there are around 75. Just compare this with all the other zoos around the world. They consider themselves fortunate if they have one. This reserve is ideal for pandas due to the humid climate which produces bamboo, the panda’s favourite food. The pandas here are not kept in cages, and you can go so far as to "adopt" a panda by giving a donation and then giving the panda a name. The Yokohama Zoo (also known as Zoorasia) in Japan is unique in the fact that it is divided into 8 distinctive climate zones, and each one incorporates not only animals but also plant life and culture. What a great way to learn about the world we live in on a Japan vacation. Most of the animals are not in cages but in spaces that re-create their natural environments. For animals that live in rivers, there is water, for animals that are used to high hills and mountains, there are rocky areas, and for animals used to residing on open plains, there are grassy areas. The zoo contains three of the world’s rarest animals, the proboscis monkey, the Indian lion, and the okapi, an animal which belongs to the giraffe family but looks more like a zebra. The Jurong Bird Park in Singapore is world-famous. It is the largest bird park anywhere in terms of the number of birds. There are around 5000 constituting 400 different species. All these are contained in an area of 49 acres. I scrolled through the list of birds you can see and there were some strange sounding species such as the carmine bee-eater, the lesser whistling duck, the lesser bird-of-paradise, the superb starling, the mute swan, and my favourite, the twelve-wired bird-of-prey. There are shows held here including High Flyers, cockatoos that mimic other birds, and Kings of the Skies with birds of prey. So, on a Singapore vacation, head to the Jurong Bird Park for a unique experience.

Sun conure in Jurong Bird Park, Singapore
Sun conure in Jurong Bird Park

Zoos in the Middle East

If you ever read the Old Testament of the Bible, you will naturally remember Noah building his ark on which he took on many animals "two by two." Well, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, to be visited on an Israel vacation, has over 170 different species of animals, most of which have been mentioned in the Bible. The original intention was to have a zoo with only biblical animals, but many of the animals mentioned in the Bible are now extinct. This zoo is one of Israel’s biggest tourist attractions. The park, which is very scenic and covers 62 acres in area, includes wildlife savannah with free-roaming animals, and a train provides transportation throughout the park with several stations along the route. Naturally, there is a two-story, boat-shaped wooden visitor's centre resembling... yes, Noah's Ark. In the United Arab Emirates is the Arabian Wildlife Park near Abu Dhabi. It is located on an island in the Arabian Sea and reached by plane or boat from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, on guided tours. An unbelievable 10,000 animals roam freely here. You can view the animals by taking a 4 x 4 nature and wildlife tour accompanied by experts. You might wonder how all these animals interact with each other. Well, predators such as cheetahs were introduced in order to create a realistic environment. Animal species range from giraffes to ostriches.

Arabian Deer at Arabian Wildlife Park near Abu Dhabi, UAE (United Arab Emirates)
Arabian deer at Arabian Wildlife Park

Zoos in Africa

If in Cape Town on a South Africa vacation, head out to the nearby Cape Winelands, not to drink wine, which can also be done, but to visit the Giraffe House Wildlife Awareness Centre in charming Stellenbosch. Although the main feature is just one of the tallest animals on earth, there are other "inmates," including a large number of the members of Africa’s wildlife kingdom, plus exotic birds and reptiles. So, if time is limited and you are not able to experience a South Africa safari, this could be a distinct alternative. When you arrive, you are given a bucket filled with feed for some of the animals, including the giraffe. On the island of Madagascar is Lemurs' Park, close to the capital, Antananarivo. First of all, a lemur is a primate (belongs to the monkey family) and is only native to Madagascar. So, naturally, there is a private reserve which features around 50 lemurs of nine different lemur species, all but two of which are free to roam. The other two are caged and are totally nocturnal.

Lemurs' Park lemurs, Madagascar
Lemurs' Park lemurs

Zoos in Europe

Polar Park is situated in the north of Norway near Troms. It is a zoo which specializes in Nordic animals such as brown bear, lynx, moose, reindeer, and interestingly enough, the wolf. The intent of this zoo is to give animals large areas in which they can create their own habitat as natural as possible. For visitors on a Norway vacation, the aim is to create a wilderness experience in beautiful surroundings. I mentioned wolf. The wolves at this zoo have become used to humans at close range and for that reason, they don’t fear them. It is understood that normally, wolves are genetically conditioned to be afraid of humans. In Spain, the Bioparc Valencia is a very different type of zoo. The old city zoo was your typical zoo with animals in enclosures or cages. The concept of this new one in Valencia is called "zoo immersion." It consists of immersing visitors into the animals’ habitat and not vice versa. The Bioparc is made up of rivers, ponds, streams, and rocks. Also, great care has been taken to reproduce the eco-systems, including an important collection of African flora. Visitors on a trip to Spain can enjoy, almost without barriers, special landscapes in which different species co-exist as they would in their natural habitat. Leopards, lemurs, hyenas, lions, giraffes, gorillas, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, ostriches, elephants, etc. all coexist here.

Two rhinos lying on the sand in Bioparc Valencia, Spain
Two rhinos lying on the sand in Bioparc Valencia

These are some of the thousands of zoos around the world. As you can see from above, there have been many changes from the traditional way of viewing animals, and innovations are occurring all the time. So, on your next visit to a Goway destination, do check out the zoos. Here are some interesting facts about animals that I have found in various zoos around the world:

  • A giraffe’s spots are like human fingerprints; no two giraffes have exactly the same pattern.
  • Ostriches can run faster than horses and the males can roar like lions.
  • A group of flamingoes is called a "flamboyance."
  • One half of a dolphin’s brain sleeps at a time; the other half makes sure it comes up for air to prevent drowning.
  • Cheetahs are the only big cat that cannot roar.

By Robert Glazier

Related Topics
Nature & Wildlife
South Africa
United Arab Emirates
New Zealand
Australia & New Zealand
Middle East
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