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Top 10 Big Cat Zoos In The U.S.

Updated on February 24, 2013

Leopard Face

The power of this captive Leopard can be felt even as a fence separates her from onlookers.
The power of this captive Leopard can be felt even as a fence separates her from onlookers. | Source

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The Best Big Cat Collection Zoo Exhibits

The Top Zoo Attraction

The top 10 U.S. Cat and Big Cat collection zoo exhibits are among the biggest reasons people scamper to local animal parks. American Zoos attract more visitors annually than all major spectator sports combined. It is often believed that the millions of zoo visitors are made up of out-of-town tourists, but this is just not the case. Fewer than 10% of the visitors to American zoos are actually tourists. I must stipulate that Walt Disney World® Resort and those parks like it, are the exception in that they are tourist magnets, and of course Disney operates Disney's Animal Kingdom, the world's largest animal tourist attraction.

Visitors At The Zoo

For a majority of zoo visitors an intriguing curiosity for bigger, more powerful, and better hunting creatures than ourselves becomes the main reason we make the drive to our local zoo. The huge fangs and claws offered by the Big Cat and feline exhibits reach deep into us, awaking something almost primal within our being. Finding the top 10 U.S. exotic cat exhibits would be a dream come true. Helping the big cat and feline lovers navigate their way to the best zoo cat collections in the United States is the mission written into this article today.

Below you will find information on each of the 10 best big cat zoos in the United States. Contacting these zoos is made convenient with web sites, phone numbers and a snippet about each exotic cat exhibit for you to enjoy.

It's just better that cats don't have eyebrows, don't you think?
It's just better that cats don't have eyebrows, don't you think?

Cats, It's an Eyebrow thing...

In ancient Egypt cats were worshiped as gods. Killing a cat, whether accidentally or deliberately, was actually a capitol offense. When a cat died, its owner was expected to shave off his/her eyebrows. Who's idea was that? A cats of course. Cats do not have eyebrows!

image compliments of

Top 10 American Zoo Cat Collections and Exhibits

Number 1 being the best of the best, and Number 10 being the least of the best Cat Exhibits.

  1. Cincinnati Zoo-Americas #1 Best Cat Collection and Exhibit
  2. Memphis Zoo
  3. Bronx Zoo
  4. Utah's Hogle Zoo
  5. San Diego Zoo
  6. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo
  7. Philadelphia Zoo
  8. Rio Grande Zoo
  9. Oklahoma City Zoo
  10. Denver Zoo

Denver Zoo Sign
Denver Zoo Sign


2300 Steele Street

Denver, Colorado 80205

(303) 379-4800

Photo Op!

The Denver zoo is the second-oldest zoo in the western United States. Since 1896, when the zoo opened, its Bear Mountain has remained the nation's oldest naturalistic, barless exhibit. Like its home state, the zoo has beautiful, wide open spaces. This is the most popular zoo between California and Chicago, bringing more than 1.7 million guests annually.

Feline Collection!

The Predator Ridge exhibit is found just inside the zoo entrance, and is one of the favorite lion exhibits found anywhere. A portion of Samburu national Park in Kenya is re-created here, perfectly landscaped to look like an kopje. Spotted hyenas, wild dogs, and two prides of lions rotate through each others' habitats. The variety of scenery and scents of the other occupants who have passed through provide important mental stimulation for these intelligent carnivores. Another habitat is set aside for the mothers and baby lion cubs and are easily viewed by visitors.

Oklahoma City Zoo Sign
Oklahoma City Zoo Sign


2101 NE 50th Street

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73111

(405) 424-3344

Photo Op!

By 2007, the zoo had remodeled and restyled its limited and outdated collection. It took seventeen years to complete, but with the help of an eighth-of-a-scent sales tax approval in 1990, the Oklahoma zoo has brought naturalistic habitats to its exhibits and increased animal collections. The new design and dedication to the "A, B, C's of the animal kingdom," apes, bears and cats, has made the one hundred-plus years old Oklahoma City Zoo the most visited attraction in the state.

Feline Collection!

Cat Forrest displays nine feline species in four acres of spacious naturalistic environments. Jaguars, ocelots, and servals each have tiered net-covered habitats outside the Small Cat building. Inside, glass-fronted habitats showcase black-footed cats and desert-dwelling caracal lynx. Bordering Zoo Lake, the outdoor enclosure for the secretive snow leopards can be viewed through thick trees from two sides. Other exhibits bring tigers, Fishing cats, Sumatran tigers, and the outstanding big cat contribution, Lion Overlook . It is almost a guarantee to see a majestic lion resting on a high rocky outcropping. Visitors can view these big felines through large sheltered windows.

Rio Grande Zoo sign
Rio Grande Zoo sign


903 10th Street SW

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102

(505) 758-2000

Photo Op!

The Rio Grande river winds through the heart of New Mexico and is lined by a beautiful cottonwood forest. The zoo, which is only one part of this botanical park offers magnificent rock work, dazzling waterfalls, pueblo-style buildings, and animal sculptures all surrounded by attractive exhibits.

Feline Collection!

The shaded Cat Walk provides visitors with close-up views of a diverse group of large and small cats. First you encounter African lions, then proceed to find bobcats, servals, snow leopards, ocelots, jaguars, and mountain lions, along with non-feline residence.

One BIG CAT expression
One BIG CAT expression

Lions Don't Need No Stinking Purr...

A lion can offer up a roar but no purr resides within its language. Unlike in most cats, their throat bones are not solid—they are connected by an elastic ligament that allows their larynx to expand and vibrate. Lions roar to communicate with one another, not to intimidate prey.

Philadelphia Zoo sign
Philadelphia Zoo sign


3400 West Girard Avenue

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104

(215) 243-1100

Photo Op!

America's first zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo was chartered in 1859, although the Civil War delayed the opening until 1859. Reminders of the zoos illustrious history remain and can be seen throughout the park in the nineteenth-century Victorian buildings, animal sculptures, statues, and fountains. Currently it maintains a delicate balance between preserving history and providing the most modern and naturalistic habitats and impressive animal collection.

Feline Collection!

One of the biggest featured exhibits here is Big Cat Falls, which has the honor of being named "Exhibit of the Year" for 2007 by the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). The big cat exhibit is lined with floor-to-ceiling glass windows rather than being across deep moats. It has five yards—each using plant life native to a particular cats homeland—the zoo displays lions, tigers, pumas, a black jaguar (an utterly beautiful creature), and both Amur and snow leopards. The heated pools in the jaguar and tiger yards encourage these water-loving big cats to take a dip year round. (The white lions are very popular with visitors, and can often be seen lounging near a row of termite mounds.)

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo sign
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo sign


3701 South 10th Street

Omaha, Nebraska 68107

(402) 733-8401

Photo Op!

The Henry Doorly zoo has a knack for creating exhibits that become the biggest and the best of their kind. In the newer exhibits a serious effort is made to put as little as possible separation between the animals and visitors. This type of attention to visual detail got the zoo included in the popular book, 1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A. and Canada Before You Die (Workman Publishing Company, ©2003). It is then no wonder why Henry Doorly Zoo is the most-visited tourist attraction between Chicago and Denver!

Feline Collection!

With 37,000 square feet of interior space, the Cat Complex is the largest feline building in North America. The structure might be aging, but the collection remains impressive. Omaha is known in the zoo world for its large collection of tigers. Amur, Malaysian, and both orange and white Bengal tigers are found in this indoor/outdoor exhibit. African lions have rocky grottoes outside, as do the Amur tigers. Jaguars, pumas, snow leopards, Amur leopards, fishing cats, and more can be found in two rows of exhibits outside of the building, as well as in several covered indoor areas.

Worl famous San Diego Zoo sign
Worl famous San Diego Zoo sign


15500 San Pasqual Valley Road

Escondido, California 92027

(760) 747-8702

Photo Op!

For the photographer who isn't afraid of a little exercise, the Kilimanjaro Safari Walk will provide the best photographic opportunities. Intriguing animals, botanical gardens and of course Big Cat Overlook.

Feline collection!

Big Cat Overlook is one of the two overlooks into a vast valley habitat for Sumatran tigers and one white Bengal tiger. You will not want to miss the Cheetah exhibit either, it's near the African Flamingos. The Cheetah exhibit is large enough for the sleek cats to show off their breathtaking speed, not a sight everyone gets to see in person!

Utah's Hogle Zoo sign
Utah's Hogle Zoo sign


2600 East Sunnyside Ave.

Salt Lake City, Utah 84108

(801) 582-1631

Photo Op!

Hogle zoo is a photographers delight. It is set in beautiful Emigration Canyon on Salt Lake City's east side. The background consists of scenic mountains and the canyon, so the photographs taken at Hogle zoo are particularly great and have a natural feel.

Feline Collection!

Amur tiger, snow leopard, Amur leopard, Palla's cats, and Siberian lynxes—all cats from the Himalayan region. Since Salt Lake City has the same seasonal climate as the cat's homeland, this is a year-round exhibit. The big cats (tigers and leopards) have huge and spacious rocky hillside habitats, with larges cascading waterfalls, small evergreen trees, and naturalistic log dens.

One Agile Kitty Cat!
One Agile Kitty Cat!

It's a Feline Blindfold thing...

A cat could operate blindfolded using only their whiskers. Unlike dogs, they can move their digits independently and "pre-form" their grip before they strike. When a cat extends it's claws, its paws double in size.

The Great Bronx Zoo sign
The Great Bronx Zoo sign


Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road

Bronx, New York 10470

(718) 220-5090

Photo Op!

New York city is, by far, the largest city in the U.S.A., so the fact that the Bronx zoo is the nation's largest metropolitan zoo comes as no surprise. It is located on 264 acres in the city's northernmost borough. The animal residents enjoy acres of room to roam, while the zoo visitors find difficulty in making it through the enormous place in a single day. A photographer will have no idea where to start clicking with over 500 different species to choose from.

Feline Collection!

At the entrance to Tiger Mountain, a forest path takes guests to the Russian Far East, home of the world's largest cats, Siberian (aka Amur) tigers. From within two glass-walled pavilions, guests can watch half a dozen awe-inspiring tigers as they roam their three-acre grassy forest or wade in their own Tiger Swimming Hole . Graphics and cultural artifacts along the winding path to and from the pavilions educate visitors about all things tiger, including the need to save them from extinction.

Memphis Zoo sign
Memphis Zoo sign

#2). MEMPHIS ZOO (runner up)

2000 Prentiss Place

Memphis, Tennessee 38112

(901) 276-9453

Photo Op!

Memphis is named after the ancient city in Egypt. The zoo commemorates this connect with its beautiful egyptian entrance complex. But, Egypt is not the only destination at this park. You can find many photo worthy images within the tributes to China, North America's Pacific Northwest, and Indonesia. You may even want to pop-off a few high-contrast shots of Ya Ya and Le Le, the giant pandas, on your way to Cat Country!  

Feline Collection!

Cat Country exhibits ten different felines from three continents, usually opposite of their natural prey. In the Asian area, spotted leopards and clouded leopards are visible through thin high-tension wire. Across a water moat, a pair of Bengal tigers, including a rare white tiger, cruise the ruins of an ancient city and a crashing waterfall. Down the trail you will find leopards, Latin American jaguars and pumas. Smaller ocelot cats live near by as well as caracal lynx and fennec foxes, followed up by wide-open savanna habitats for cheetahs and lions. Their natural prey—klipspringer antelope and meerkats—inhabit rock outcroppings known as kopjes.

Cheetah profile image
Cheetah profile image

Cheetah Purr-fection, and I'm Not Lion....

The Cheetah can purr, chirp, and yelp, but they can not roar. A lion may not be able to purr or run 60+ mph like the cheetah, but when it comes to the world of big cats, the king of beasts does have the final roar!

Cincinnati Zoo sign
Cincinnati Zoo sign

#1). CINCINNATI ZOO (The Top Cat Collection Zoo!)

3400 Vine Street

Cincinnati, Ohio 45220

(513) 281-4700

Photo Op!

Opening in 1875, the Cincinnati Zoo is the second oldest zoo in the United States, and consistently ranks as one of America's best. So outstanding is this zoo, that three of its buildings have been designated as National Historic Landmarks, making for some of the best architectural photography as well as feline image making. The zoo has also long been a leader in the field of breeding endangered species. High-tech reproduction methods are researched and applied at the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Wildlife (CREW), right on the zoo grounds—it is truly worth visiting!

Siegfried & Roy have an impressive Big Cat Collection of their own!
Siegfried & Roy have an impressive Big Cat Collection of their own! | Source

Feline Collection!

The Cat House is home to many of the world's most endangered small cats. Mesh-covered outdoor enclosures surround the building, and each indoor habitat features naturalistic rock work and beautiful mural backdrops that portray the cats' native homes. Siberian lynx, clouded leopards, pumas and Pallas' cats are all here. This zoo has a highly successful breeding program for spotted ocelot cats, also features within.

Tiger Canyon displays Malaysian tigers and white Bengal tigers in a series of grassy gullies. You will find a long, raised platform weaves through Siegfried & Roy's White Lions of Timbavati. These lions are not truly white, but have a noticeably light tint. While a population of white tigers was recently discovered in South Africa, Cincinnati's lions are from the private collection of the Vegas entertainers, Siegfried and Roy. The lions have plenty of room in this expansive exhibit, but more often than not, they can be found resting on a set of tiered wooden platforms.

The amazing Madagascar Fossa up close
The amazing Madagascar Fossa up close

It's a Squirrel, it's a Puma, it's a Fossa?

The Fossa

The fossa is only found on Madagascar, where it is the top land carnivore. It's as big as a spaniel, looks like a cat, but is distantly related to the mongoose. Imagine a cross between a Puma and a giant otter that leaps through the tree canopy like a squirrel, and you would be getting close. This dog-cat-mongoose-thing gets its name from a Malagasy word, pronounced "Foo-sa." It may not be all cat, but it is close enough to get a mention here!

Comments Zoos - Top U.S. Cat and Big Cat Collection Zoo Exhibits

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  • Daisy Mariposa profile image

    Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


    Thanks for all the work you put into researching and writing this article. I've visited #3, Bronx Zoo and #5, San Diego Zoo. The lion area in San Diego is designed so that there's just a very thick glass wall between the visitors and the lions.

  • Kristen Howe profile image

    Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

    Great hub India. Real fascinating and interesting to know about Cincinatti Zoo ranked #1 on your list. Real useful to know how the other zoos rank as well. Voted up!

  • profile image

    ThegaBear 3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this awesome collection! :)

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Incredible hub on the Top Ten Big Cat Zoos In The U.S. So many facts I learned from this hub and is an educational and interesting place to go to.

  • Sinea Pies profile image

    Sinea Pies 5 years ago from Northeastern United States

    The big cats are just so beautiful. I would love to visit at least one of these zoos someday. Thanks for the great hub. Voted up and beautiful.

  • DeborahNeyens profile image

    Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

    I know a lot of people think zoos are bad but I can't help but love the opportunity to see different animals in real life. I've never been to any of these zoos. I used to live within walking distance of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. I went there all the time. Of the big cats, lions are my favorite. I have a cat that thinks he's one.

  • Shesabutterfly profile image

    Cholee Clay 5 years ago from Wisconsin

    Awesome hub! I absolutely love big cats. I go to the Milwaukee zoo every year just to watch the cats. Although they've lost some and rearranged some of their cat exhibits. No longer having the snow leopard. Definitely putting some of these zoo's on my trip list:) Voted up and interesting.

  • profile image

    jesse j 7 years ago

    wow and i thought the calgary zoo rocked

  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 7 years ago from Northern, California

    Pbody5205~The old school big cat house at Lincoln Park Zoo has not been one I have enjoyed. My good friend Pete, tells me that they have a super good Silverback gorilla exhibit at Lincoln Park Though. The big apes (and Chimps) even have a beautiful waterfall to frollic about! Thank you for your comments!


  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 7 years ago from Northern, California

    Micky Dee~Very cute remark! Thanks for stopping by and reading about some big cat zoos!

  • PBody5205 profile image

    PBody5205 7 years ago

    Nice post! Have you been to Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago? They have an impressive cat collection, though I am not a big fan of their old school big cat house.

  • Micky Dee profile image

    Micky Dee 7 years ago

    Thank you for showing us what's new to zoo!