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What is the Best Zoo in America, and the World?

Updated on January 14, 2015

The Best Zoo in the World is in Omaha Nebraska

Yes, the best zoo in the United States is the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo located in the middle of the United States? You might think I'm exaggerating, or bragging, or biased, but the best zoo in the United States, and the world, is can be found in Omaha Nebraska; and you thought we were just fly over country?

Time and time again travel sites and major newspapers and organizations such as US News, Family Fun magazine and Trip Adviser has ranked the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo in the top five zoos in the country.

This surprises a lot of people, but it's true. Everyone who lives in Nebraska is more than willing to give anyone a tour of the Rainforest, Gorilla Valley, the Aquarium, the Desert Dome and many other hot spots worth checking out. It's hard, if not impossible to see in one day, especially the first time.

I've been to lots of zoos around the country. I was an Animal Science major in college, and at one time wanted to be took a zoo course at the Tulsa Zoo, and worked in the veterinary field, so I do look at zoos with a little bit of a critical eye. In terms of number of animals and shear space Omaha has more more visitor satisfaction and a higher membership per capita than the San Diego Zoo.

So take a journey with me through the Omaha Zoo, all the photographs are mine, and I'll try to show you the sights.

Travel Guides to American Zoos - Read up on Zoos

If you're traveling and love animals you might just make zoo visits part of your travels. Each zoo has something different to offer and has their special animal exhibits which are unique and interesting.

America's Best Zoos: A Travel Guide for Fans & Families
America's Best Zoos: A Travel Guide for Fans & Families

Keep track of which zoos you want to visit with this zoo guide book. Make your vacation plans to parts of the country and visit a zoo in each area.

 

Home of Mutual of Omaha - Think Wild Kingdom Show

Bronze Lions at the Mutual of Omaha Building
Bronze Lions at the Mutual of Omaha Building

As a child of the 70's I have fond memories of watching Marlin Perkins on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom on television with my Dad. I really though is what gave me a love of animals. The Mutual of Omaha Insurance company is, of course, based in Omaha, so it is only fitting to have a prominent building.

The lions at the front of the entrance are a landmark for every family. I have photos of my kids climbing on them from a very young age. It's a popular meeting spot for groups. "Let's meet at the lions at 3 o'clock everyone!"

Take A Camera to the Zoo - Capture Animals in a Photo

I take my camera every time I go to the zoo and as you can see I have a LOT of zoo photos. These are just a few. Now that I have my Canon Rebel DSLR I have more flexibility in taking photos, but a camera phone will work just as well.

Canon EOS Rebel T3 12.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Zoom Lens + 16GB Deluxe Accessory Kit
Canon EOS Rebel T3 12.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Zoom Lens + 16GB Deluxe Accessory Kit

I have a Canon Rebel camera my son gave me. Over the years I've learned to shoot in nothing but manual mode and take photos in both JPG and RAW format, that way I have a wider range of editing possibilities when I get home.

 
100 Ways to Take Better Nature & Wildlife Photographs
100 Ways to Take Better Nature & Wildlife Photographs

Animals don't always cooperate when you take their picture. In some ways they are like kids. This book will teach you the hints and tips of getting better animal photos.

 

Zoo Animals

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ok, they aren't animals, but in a zoo the kids act like animalsWe always visit the children's petting zoo. The goats are always a favorite hit.When other animals are still the otters will always be moving around. They have been there so long they will look at you and almost wave.Dinosaurs Alive
Ok, they aren't animals, but in a zoo the kids act like animals
Ok, they aren't animals, but in a zoo the kids act like animals
We always visit the children's petting zoo. The goats are always a favorite hit.
We always visit the children's petting zoo. The goats are always a favorite hit.
When other animals are still the otters will always be moving around. They have been there so long they will look at you and almost wave.
When other animals are still the otters will always be moving around. They have been there so long they will look at you and almost wave.
Dinosaurs Alive
Dinosaurs Alive
Five Waterfalls to Explore
Five Waterfalls to Explore

Rainforest in the Midwest

Rainforest is another name for Jungle

The Lied Jungle in Omaha Nebraska was built in the early 1990s and covers 61,000 square feet of walkways and is eight stories tall. It is one of the largest indoor rainforests in the world and covers an acre and a half. The first time I saw real bananas growing inside I was more than excited. Yes, it doesn't take much.

Over 90 animals species are found in the indoor jungle from pygmy hippos, to red-backed bearded saki monkeys. One trip my son was enthralled by the baby sting rays that had just hatched in a small pool on the canopy floor.

I have visited the Lied Jungle every year since it opened and I see something different every time. Birds will sometimes be building nests, or a golden lion tamarin will jump over your head. This last visit we saw free roaming bats eating fruit hanging from a cave opening.

Probably our favorite photo opportunity in the jungle is the swinging rope bridge. But there are so many places to explore, waterfalls to photograph, and hideouts to sit and watch the animals you will never get bored. If it's your first time going through the jungle count on it taking over an hour, more like two hours to see everything.

Tour of the Rainforest - Step inside the Jungle for a few hours

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Utility cables are camouflaged as vines (my son in the foreground, never too old for the zoo)It's an open enclosure exhibit.Five waterfalls, lots of places to explore, get wet evenCan you see my son in the tree top roost?Three stories tall, all the plants have grown and covered the insideBats fly freely, coaked into dark corners by feeding stationsThis slow loris rarely moves, except at feeding timeWe love this rope bridge, tradition states we have to take a photo on it.
Utility cables are camouflaged as vines (my son in the foreground, never too old for the zoo)
Utility cables are camouflaged as vines (my son in the foreground, never too old for the zoo)
It's an open enclosure exhibit.
It's an open enclosure exhibit.
Five waterfalls, lots of places to explore, get wet even
Five waterfalls, lots of places to explore, get wet even
Can you see my son in the tree top roost?
Can you see my son in the tree top roost?
Three stories tall, all the plants have grown and covered the inside
Three stories tall, all the plants have grown and covered the inside
Bats fly freely, coaked into dark corners by feeding stations
Bats fly freely, coaked into dark corners by feeding stations
This slow loris rarely moves, except at feeding time
This slow loris rarely moves, except at feeding time
We love this rope bridge, tradition states we have to take a photo on it.
We love this rope bridge, tradition states we have to take a photo on it.

Jungle Video - Take a Tour of the Rainforest

This is the official jungle video from the Omaha Zoo with facts and information about the Lied Jungle, it's animals and plant life. This tropical Rainforest zoo exhibit in the Midwest has won many awards and is worth the trip.

Visitor information about the Omaha Lied Jungle. Learn about the different areas, the canopy, the jungle floor and the underwater views.

Don't Forget These Items When Going To the Zoo - Will Make Your Zoo Trip Easier

When going to the zoo with kids the following items will make your life easier. Remember it's going to be a long day, they will get tired, hot, and cranky. The Omaha zoo lets you bring in drinks, snacks and lunch. Yes, they would prefer you buy lunch at concessions, but at $3.00 hot dogs can get expensive for my pocketbook and budget.

Plastic Zoo Animal Sipper Cups - 1 Dozen Assorted Cups
Plastic Zoo Animal Sipper Cups - 1 Dozen Assorted Cups

Drink plenty of water. This can be refilled and is perfect for toddlers and little hands. Keeping kids hydrated is a secret to keeping them happy and not getting cranky at the zoo.

 
Radio Flyer Ultimate Comfort Wagon
Radio Flyer Ultimate Comfort Wagon

Not only will this wagon be handy to pull the kids around the zoo, it has a shade to keep the sun from beating down on them.

 
Jungle Animal Baseball Caps (1 dz)
Jungle Animal Baseball Caps (1 dz)

Have the kids dress the part when going to the zoo. These animal caps are fun to wear, keep the sun off their heads and make it easier to keep track of them in a crowd. These hats are a great safety tool when going on trips. Almost as good as coordinated shirts and a lot more cool.

 

First Class Aquarium in the Midwest - No need to travel to the ocean

Penguins at the Aquarium
Penguins at the Aquarium

My second favorite exhibit at the Omaha zoo is the Aquarium. Mainly because I love penguins and the ocean. The main exhibit is the Antarctic penguin exhibit where over 85 penguins call home. It actually snows inside the exhibit, more than 20 tons of man-made snow per day can be made and the King penguins love it.

Personally I think the rockhopper penquins are the cutest, but the it doesn't matter I can sit and watch them swim and chase each other for hours. In addition to the penquins is the tide pool touch tank, a 40 foot ractrack tank with schooling fish. The kids love this one, who am I kidding, I trace the fish as they race back and forth.

The photo above was taken in the 70 foot shark tunnel, that's right, sharks, sting rays, sea turtles and fish all swim overhead and around you in one of the largest walk through shark tunnels in the world.

Aquarium - It will surprise and delight you

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Jelly FishJelly FishCan you see the stone fish here? Where are his eyes?Penquin exhibit, it real snows in there!
Jelly Fish
Jelly Fish
Jelly Fish
Jelly Fish
Can you see the stone fish here? Where are his eyes?
Can you see the stone fish here? Where are his eyes?
Penquin exhibit, it real snows in there!
Penquin exhibit, it real snows in there!

Desert Dome - Desert Dome & Kingdom of the Night Below

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My daughter in front of a petroglyph, just one of the many photo opp areas in the desert.
My daughter in front of a petroglyph, just one of the many photo opp areas in the desert.
My daughter in front of a petroglyph, just one of the many photo opp areas in the desert.

Madagascar Exhibit - More than just lemurs

One of the goals of the Omaha Henry Doorly zoo and Aquarium is to participate in conservation projects around the world. One of the ways they do this is through the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP). Many endangered species of animals live on this tiny island and the veterinarians and researchers at the zoo participate in reproductive and conservation research.

Madagascar is one of the rare places on earth with largest number of endemic animal and plant species. This means these animals were originally found in this country and nowhere else on earth. The island is only the size of Texas and since 1998 the researchers at the zoo have been active in making sure these animals thrive in their native habitat.

Zoo Books and Animal for Kids - Kids Love Animals

Kids love animals and love going to the zoo. The Omaha Zoo was, and still is my kids favorite place to go, even now in their twenties. We had a bucket of plastic animals they would play with at home and most of the time they wanted to take them to the zoo to play with during our picnic lunches in the dirt and grass.

Books make great gifts, especially books on animals. Before you go to the zoo it's a good idea to give a zoo book to your child to get them excited about the visit. Especially if they haven't been before.

New Cat Exhibit is Coming Soon - Lions, and Tigers, Oh My!

The Cat Complex at the zoo is one of the oldest buildings and is slated for renovation. Opened in 1977 the zoo has been a leader in the reservation and reproduction efforts of large exotic cats. Enrichment programs are used extensively in this facility and it's not uncommon to see large balls, toilet paper, boxes, and other enclosure "furniture" to keep the cats active, alert and promote natural behaviors.

Some enrichment programs are not as visual. My friend worked as a keeper in the cat house for a year and she told me the zoo would ask for donations of perfume and cologne. Scents would be placed strategically around the exhibit for the cats to explore and investigate.

Zoo Fans, Take a Trip to Omaha

African Crowned Crane
African Crowned Crane

Have you been to the Omaha zoo before?

Have You Been to the Omaha Zoo?

See results

Omaha Zoo Links - Links About the Henry Doorly Zoo

Information about the zoo, animals, rankings, and taking a trip to the zoo by real people, tips on what to see and where to stay.

Visit the Omaha Zoo, you'll be glad you did. Just make sure to bring comfortable shoes, water, and plenty of time.

Let me know what you think - Drop me a note, a comment of suggestion on other zoos.

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    • Anthony J Vita profile image

      Anthony J Vita 3 years ago

      Thank you for sharing, I have not been to this zoo but it looks great.

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image
      Author

      Dawn Romine 3 years ago from Nebraska

      @Zodiacimmortal: It actually doesn't smell, the zoo is so big and in the Midwest with excellent sanitation you don't smell anything but fresh air

    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 3 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      I'd rather go when it's cool weather so it won't smell as bad.

    • TerriCarr profile image

      TerriCarr 3 years ago

      This does look like a pretty fantastic zoo. I love that aquarium.

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image
      Author

      Dawn Romine 3 years ago from Nebraska

      @RinchenChodron: If you are ever in Omaha just ask, I'll give you a tour

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 3 years ago

      I want to see the Rainforest Exhibit. Thanks for the tour.

    • profile image

      zubaer_ahammed 3 years ago

      Nice zoo.. very beautiful. I wish to have a visit there

    • profile image

      ChocolateLily 3 years ago

      If we ever make it over toward Nebraska, I'll try to remember this zoo. My husband and I try to visit zoos in the cities we visit. I also majored in Animal Science and love animals. Thanks for sharing this fantastic gem of a zoo!

    • spudzjamezspudz profile image

      spudzjamezspudz 3 years ago

      Nebraska? Who would've thought that places like this zoo really exist there! I would like the domed aquarium and the Madagascar exhibits. Great Lens!

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      The domed aquarium looks amazing. It would be worth the trip just to visit it.

    • AtlantaGeorgia LM profile image

      AtlantaGeorgia LM 3 years ago

      I love visiting the zoo! I've never visited the Omaha zoo but I would love to someday. Great lens!

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      It looks like a lovely zoo.

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image
      Author

      Dawn Romine 3 years ago from Nebraska

      @dwelburn: Thank you for the comment and praise, after writing this I want to go back to the zoo soon. Even in the winter there is so much to see.

    • wildbluefrontier profile image

      Nathan M 4 years ago from Tucson

      Wow! that looks like one heck of a zoo (and Aquarium). I used to love Wild Kingdom as well so that gives it bonus points in my book.

    • profile image

      dwelburn 3 years ago

      Brilliant article and some superb pictures. I love zoos, but I don't live in America so probably won't get to see this one.

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image
      Author

      Dawn Romine 4 years ago from Nebraska

      @wildbluefrontier: It is a great zoo, really no way you can see it all in one day if you're visiting for the first time.

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image
      Author

      Dawn Romine 4 years ago from Nebraska

      @anonymous: Thanks, I love the Omaha zoo and animals. I majored in Animal Science and at one time wanted to be a zoo vet, but that was a lifetime ago.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Wow, what wonderful photographs. I can tell from your photos and content that you are very proud of this zoo. Thank you for this visual tour of the zoo.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      You have some great photos here. Love the one of the tiger.

    • steadytracker lm profile image

      steadytracker lm 4 years ago

      What a terrific lens. I have been to several zoos, but unfortunately the only time I have been in Oklahoma was when I was at Fort Sill. Thank you for sharing this great lens with us.

    • profile image

      burntchestnut 4 years ago

      I remember The Wild Kingdom on TV- what a great show and you created a great lens. I've never been to Omaha, but if I ever do, I'll remember to to check out the zoo.

    • PippiDust profile image

      PippiDust 4 years ago

      You took very beautiful photos. And I love the Aquarium, I would love to visit it.

    • Fufurinha47 profile image

      Beatriz 4 years ago from Portugal

      Beautiful zoo! Here in Portugal we have a good one in Lisboa :)

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I've been to a few zoos and I think I'd love to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo. I think my most favorite one so far that I've been to is the San Diego Zoo.