Nobody will argue that The Columbus Zoo in Columbus, Ohio is one of the best zoos in America, but after we had a chance to visit in October, right before we left for our current 7-month stint in Europe, we suggest that it’s the best zoo in America. We’ve been to a few, and it’s time we get back to some we haven’t seen in years, but we suggest that if you’re a lover of zoos you should put a trip to Columbus high on your wish list.
By the way, our evaluation of The Columbus Zoo is purely as that of an attraction. We imagine that all zoos have worthwhile missions and admirable research projects, but as we—like most visitors—didn’t have a chance to delve into these aspects of their operation, our perspective is solely that of tourists.
Here are our 5 reasons why The Columbus Zoo might be the best:
Jack Hanna – having a celebrity director (technically, director emeritus) wasn’t a quality we had thought important. But along with the huge amount of visibility Jack Hanna has brought to the Columbus Zoo from his years of late night talk show appearances has come money: lots of it, and it shows in the quality of the facility. His face is everywhere throughout the park, a friendly, smiling mentor of all things interesting in the animal kingdom, equally familiar and engaging to adults and children. In one corner of the park, he’s even gotten his good friend Betty White in on the celebrity fun, and everyone loves Betty White.
Variety – the Columbus Zoo, like few other zoos, is really an entire entertainment complex. There are the 7,000+ animals, of course, but there is also a respectable aquarium and (even though closed for the season when we visited) a section of 16 rides, including a roller coaster. This means that The Columbus Zoo could occupy the interests of an entire family, including teenagers, for a couple of days.
Scheduled Animal Demonstrations – in some zoo park settings, the animal demonstrations come off a bit like trained shows: an animal jumping through hoops in order to get fed. Much like you’ve seen Jack Hanna simply bring an animal on a talk show and just let the animal create their own natural awe, so too are the animal demonstrations here. Especially the cheetah run: the only way to really appreciate that this is the fastest (legged) animal on the planet is to actually see them run, and they apparently love to do it.
Up Close and Personal Displays – long gone are display cages, and many zoos have caught on to ways of allowing up-close-and-personal viewing of the animals. The Columbus Zoo looks to have perfected it. You can look into a cheetah’s eyes or walk through a garden of kangaroos on the loose all around you. Particularly amazing is the gorilla enclosure where you can play patty-cake with the babies and high-five a silverback, all through Plexiglas windows, of course.
Nice Wide Open Spaces – all modern zoos afford their animals nice, wide-open spaces these days: habitats designed to mimic the animal’s natural habitats. Giraffes graze on savannahs and lions bask in the sun on rock ledges. Not only is it more humane, but the animals are best viewed in surroundings natural to them. But The Columbus Zoo extends the same natural habitats to us humans, with nice, wide-open spaces and walkways that never feel particularly crowded.
Wide Open Spaces for Animals and Humans Alike