Zoos are one of the best places for families to spend a day. Children, especially, are captivated by animals, particularly animals that are unusual to them. But zoos have a wonderful effect on adults, too. Texas' biggest cities are home to some of the best zoos in the U.S. But there are also some great zoos in a few Texas cities where you wouldn't necessarily expect to find them. Here is our rundown of the best zoos in Texas:
Fort Worth Zoo
The Fort Worth Zoo houses 435 species of animals, including 35 endangered species. It is the only zoo in the U.S. to house representatives of all four Great Ape species — gorillas, orangutans, bonobos and chimpanzees; and the only zoo in Texas with pygmy chimps. This zoo has one of the largest reptile collections in the U.S., and is also one of only five zoos in the world to display three of the five rhino species in captivity: black, white and one-horned Asian rhinos. Info: (817) 759-7500.
The Dallas Zoo's nearly 100 acres, in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, are home to around 8,000 animals. It's the oldest zoo in Texas, founded in 1888. The park's six habitats can be toured by monorail via the Monorail Safari, a one-mile tour lasting about 25 minutes. The Dallas Zoo is a participant in the national Species Survival Plans for 37 species, including gorillas, tigers, chimps, lemurs, okapis and Bali mynahs. Info: (214) 670-5656.
San Antonio Zoo
The San Antonio Zoo is located just a hop away from Downtown in historic Brackenridge Park. This zoo houses 3,500 animals representing 750 species. Its conservation programs include working with flamingo, white rhino, black rhino, snow leopard, whooping crane and other endangered species. A large section of the zoo is set aside specifically for children and children's programs. Info: (210) 734-7184.
Located in Hermann Park, the Houston Zoo is the most-visited zoo in Texas. Recently privatived, the zoo has undergone upgrades and expansions that should only add to the enjoyment for visitors. The Houston Zoo is set on 55 acres and houses more than 3,500 animals representing more than 700 species. Among them is Rudi the orangutang, pictured at left. Info: (713) 533-6500.
Waco - Cameron Park Zoo
The Cameron Park Zoo is inside Cameron Park, one of the largest undeveloped municipal parks in the country, and adjacent to the Brazos River. The Zoo encompasses just over 50 acres and its pathways lead visitors through lush landscapes and natural habitat displays featuring animals from Africa, Asia, South America, North America, and Madagascar. The zoo is the most prolific breeder of King Vultures in North America, and the recenly added Lemur Island exhibits includes the Sclater's black lemur. Cameron Park Zoo is one of only 14 zoos worldwide to house the critically endangered Sclater's black lemur. Info: (254) 750-8400.
Brownsville - Gladys Porter Zoo
The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville is the best zoo in Texas south of San Antonio. More than 400,000 people annually visit the zoo, which is located on 31 acres in central Brownsville. Exhibits are themed to animals of Tropical America, Indo-Australia, Asia and Africa. The zoo's gorillas and rhinos are among the most popular exhibits. Info: (956) 546-7187.
Tyler - Caldwell Zoo
This zoo is situated on 85 acres in East Texas' Piney Woods. More than 2,000 animals, many of which are endangered or threatened species, roam plains, ponds and trees in environments designed to recreate their native habitats in South America, North America and Africa. Elephants and rhinos, African cats and several primate species are among the most popular exhibits. Info: (903) 593-0121.
Lufkin - Ellen Trout Zoo
The Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin features approximately 700 animals, relatively modest compared to the state's biggest zoos. But this zoo is undergoing its largest expansion since opening in 1967. In recent years, Maasai giraffe and white rhinoceros exhibits opened, and a new Nile hippopotamus exhibit features underwater and above water viewing. Also at the zoo is the Z&OO Railroad, a short train ride around the zoo and around Ellen Trout Lake. Info: (936) 633-0399.
El Paso Zoo
Situated on 18 acres, the El Paso Zoo is home to approximately 600 animals representing more than 250 species. Habitats include the Reptile House, South American Pavilion, Americas Aviary, Paraje, Birds of Prey, American Biome, Forest Atrium, Asian Grasslands, Asian Endangered Walk and an Elephant Complex. Info: (915) 521-1850.
Abilene - Abilene Zoo
The mission of the Abilene Zoo is to compare animals that utilize grasslands from North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia. More than 800 animals 200 species are represented, including three primate species, African elephants, giraffes and zebras, along with several aquariums. Located in Nelson Park, across from the Taylor County Expo Center, off Highway 36. Info: (325) 673-9453.