Are the biggest zoos in the world also the best zoos in the world?

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(Last updated on: 04/05/2021)

The biggest zoos in the world are often the best-known, but is bigger always better? In this article I will tell you which are the biggest zoos in the world and I note that while many of these zoos are also ranked as some of the best zoos in the world, bigger doesn’t always mean better! I will also tell you about which are the best zoos in the world in terms of rankings and reputation.

What makes a good zoo?

The best zoos in the world are, of course, the ones that put animal welfare and conservation at the top of their list of priorities.

Some people would say there is no such thing as a good zoo; that animals should exist solely in the wild, and that they aren’t here for human entertainment. But it is a fact that zoos exist. They have many benefits in terms of animal development and scientific progress. We should not be so quick to disregard zoos (I discuss this more in my article- are zoos ethical?). Instead, we should be focusing on the ones that treat their animals well and give back to society. 

Wildlife tourism

Some aspects of the most ethical and the best zoos in the world include:

  • Progressive conservation projects 
  • Solid animal welfare statistics and practises 
  • Large enclosures
  • Regular feeding times
  • High standards of cleanliness
  • Activities to stimulate the animals’ minds and enrich their lives
  • Consistent and good veterinary care
  • Accreditation from relevant organisations
  • Constantly improving standards
  • Educational activities for visitors 

A visit to a zoo should be a fulfilling experience. It should encourage guests to care for the environment and learn about animals and their collective welfare.

Are the biggest zoos in the world also the best?

You can find out about the best zoos in the world in this blog post [link]. The following zoos are the biggest by area, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the ‘best’.

Many of the biggest zoos in the world are pretty good zoos, but that doesn’t always make them the best! The reason they are good is often down to size. Big zoos tend to make more money, which goes a long way to ensuring the best care for the animals. BUT this isn’t always the case and practices differ around the world. So lets take a look at which zoos are the biggest in the world…

The biggest zoos in the world

The biggest zoos in the world in terms of size are:

#1 Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park

Located in Tirupati, Andrha Pradesh in India, Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park has an area of 5,532 acres. This is the equivalent to 22.39 square kilometres. It is the biggest zoo in Asia, but also in the world.

Opened in 1987, Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park was established on modern zoo concepts and has a mythological theme running throughout. They have a huge amount of birds, as well as some mammals and reptiles. Some animals you can expect to see at Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park include:

  • Painted Spurfowl
  • Alexandrine Parakeet 
  • Red Jungle Fowl
  • Albino Budgerigars
  • Peach Faced Love Birds
  • Gharial Crocodile
  • Indian Rock Python
  • Terrapine Indian Pond Turtle
  • Elephants 
  • Stump Tailed Macaque
  • Sloth Bear
  • Royal Bengal Tiger
  • Porcupine
  • …and many more!

#2 Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution, and covers 3,200 acres or 13 square kilometres. It is an extension of the National Zoo in Washington DC.

The SCBI plays a leading role in research into reproductive physiology, veterinary medicine and conservation biology. Founded in 1974, it was originally called the Conservation and Research Center but was renamed in 2010. They have plenty of animals to see, including:

  • African Pancake Tortoise 
  • Black and White Ruffed Lemur
  • California Sealion
  • Giant Panda
  • Goats
  • Hawk-headed Parrot 
  • Panamanian Golden Frog
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Titi Monkey

…and many more! Exhibits include a kids farm, a great cat area amongst others.

#3 Living Desert Zoo and Gardens 

Located in Palm Desert, Riverside County in California, there are over 500 animals at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens from 150+ species.

As the name and location suggest, the zoo specialises in the deserts of the world and the animals that call them home. With a strong conservation mission and various community initiatives, there are many amazing factors that make this zoo special. At 1,800 acres or 7.3 square kilometres, it is one of the biggest zoos in the world.

Only 80 acres are actually developed, but the rest of the land is used for more ‘behind the scenes’ care, breeding, research and more. The zoo was launched as a wilderness preserve in 1970, and new animals have been added gradually over the years. Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a private, non-profit zoo.

biggest zoos in the world

On top of being a zoo it is also a botanical garden, which is why it is such a pleasure to visit. Their mission is ‘desert conservation through preservation, education and appreciation’ – and the programs they run are incredibly beneficial to animals and humans alike. These include:

  • Native wildlife rehabilitation
  • Habitat restoration
  • Environmental education
  • Plant propagation 
  • Breeding North American, Australian and African species

When visiting the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, it is split into three sections. The first of these is the African Safari: home to Arabian oryx, Fennec foxes, giraffes, ostriches and more. Next up is the Wilds of North America where you can see desert bighorn sheep, jaguars, peninsular pronghorn and many more – even mountain lions! Last but not least is the Australian adventures area, an immersive walk-through experience where you’ll get to see kookaburra, echidnas, yellow-footed rock wallabies and more.

#4 San Diego Zoo Safari Park

World-famous and incredibly popular, San Diego Zoo Safari Park is also one of the biggest zoos in the world. Located in the San Pasqual Valley area, it is one of the largest tourist attractions in the county – with 1800 acres of land and over 3,500 animals on site, it’s no wonder that so many tourists flock here.

Note: this is not to be confused with nearby San Diego Zoo. Both are operated by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, but they are 32 miles apart and are very different places.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to the world’s largest veterinary hospital as well as Southern California’s quarantine center, for any zoo animals that are imported to the US via San Diego. There is also an Institute for Conservation Research here. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park was built to be a supplementary breeding site for the zoo itself, and swiftly turned into a further tourist attraction. It differs the zoo in that the animals are in larger and more ‘free-range’ enclosures. 

So what animals can you expect to see at San Diego Zoo Safari Park, one of the biggest zoos in the word? Some of them include…

  • Bactrian camels
  • Dalmatian pelicans
  • Fringe-eared oryx
  • Bongo antelope
  • Sumatran tigers
  • Western lowland gorillas
  • Bat eared foxes
  • West African crowned cranes

…and many more. The animals are spread across different exhibits: there are two open-range enclosures, the Asian Savanna and African Plains, as well as other areas. These are the Tiger Trail, Nairobi Village, Gorilla Forest, Hidden Jungle, Lion Camp, African Woods and African Outpost.

#5 Arignar Anna Zoological Park

Also called the Vandalur Zoo, Arignar Anna Zoological Park was the first public zoo in India when it was established in 1855. It is in the Chennai area, and covers around 1500 acres. Most of this is exhibit space, but around 230 acres is used as a rescue and rehabilitation facility. The zoo is home to 2704 animals as of March 2020, including sloth bears, otters, leaf-capped langurs, nilgai, white tigers and more.

Arignar Anna Zoological Park is one of the biggest zoos in the world and it is home to a wide variety of common and rare species. You can walk around the zoo, cycle or take one of the jeep rides. They have a successful captive breeding program which is in line with the Central Zoo Authority of India, and have managed to breed lion-tailed macaques, Asian palm civets, panthers and more. 

However, as zoos go, this one gets incredibly mixed reviews when it comes to visitor experience and animal welfare. There are reports of the elephant(s) being chained up in the heat, and elephant rides have been available at the zoo, although it is unclear whether this is still the case. Reviews say the food is terrible and you are unable to bring your own in with you, and the jeep ride only makes 4 stops around the entire park. The animals are allegedly too far away to see them properly in their enclosures, and the zoo itself is difficult to get to from Chennai. There are some great reviews of Arignar Anna Zoological Park too, though, and it’s always worth doing your own research before visiting any tourist attraction!

#6 North Carolina Zoo

Spread across 2,600 acres with 500 of these developed, North Carolina Zoo is located in Randolph County and is a state-supported zoo. It is also the world’s biggest ‘natural habitat’ zoo.

This wooded area is close to the natural habitat of the animals the live here, so the experience is much more authentic for them and for guests too. Animals are surrounded by plants that would be around them in the wild, ensuring that their captive home is a close resemblance to their life outside of a zoo setting. North Carolina Zoo also offers a variety of nature-based educational programs as well as summer camps!

biggest zoos in the world

With 1800+ animals across 250 African and North American species, this is one of the biggest zoos in the world. It officially opened in 1976, and has since been successful in its breeding programs and animal conservation. It has four main exhibits: Africa, North America, a global desert and a global aviary. Animals you’ll be able to spot include:

  • Cougars
  • Peregrine falcons
  • Bobcats
  • Pancake tortoises 
  • White-winged doves
  • Hamadryas baboons
  • Southern white rhinos
  • Ring tailed lemurs

There are plenty more animals, as well as a wide variety of art. The zoo has a large art collection from sculptures to mosaics and much more. This art serves to further enhance and improve the visitor experience at North Carolina Zoo, one of the biggest zoos in the world.

The best zoos in the world

Remember that I said bigger isn’t always better? Well, below you will find a list of some of the best zoos in the world, both in terms of visitor experience and animal treatment. These are the zoos that I most highly recommend!

#1 San Diego Zoo

One of the biggest and most famous zoos in the world, San Diego Zoo is set across 100 acres of land in Balboa Park, San Diego, California. It is a tourist hotspot, and comes highly recommended when looking for things to do in this US city. If you’re not planning a trip to San Diego any time soon, you can watch some live cams of the animals!

So what makes San Diego Zoo one of the best zoos in the world? It is the most-visited zoo in the country, and has 4.5 stars on Tripadvisor. Clearly, guests rate their experience here highly and it is a popular California experience. The zoo is described as a non-profit wildlife sanctuary. It is home to 3,500 animals across 650 species: particularly rare and endangered species. They also have an amazing botanical collection which includes around 700,000 exotic plants. Many of the animals here were rescued, and they are well taken care of in large, clean enclosures. 

The only negative that comes up consistently in reviews is the cost. A 1-day pass for San Diego Zoo will set you back $62 per adult and $52 per child (aged between 3 and 11). For a family of four, this is quite a pricey day out. It is also expensive to eat and drink at the zoo, but you *can* bring your own refreshments. The high costs go back into ensuring San Diego remains one of the best zoos in the world, but this doesn’t stop it from being too expensive for many tourists!

biggest zoos in the world

#2 Prague Zoo

Located in the north of the Czech capital, Prague Zoo has been open since 1931. In their own words, they opened with a goal to “advance the study or zoology, protect wildlife, and educate the public”. As mentioned above, this is part of what makes a good zoo. It is a fairly good sized zoo at 140 acres, and is home to around 5,000 animals across 676 species. 132 of these species are classed as ‘threatened’ in terms of the conservation status.

Prague Zoo has achieved world-class success over the years in terms of scientific research and breeding. They bred the first artificially bred polar bear in the world, and the first artificially bred Andean condor too. The zoo has also been part of a brilliant effort in terms of saving the Przewalski’s Horse. This is just a small handful of the incredible, ongoing successes in terms of conservation projects here at one of the best zoos in the world.

The unique landscape makes this a pleasure for visitors. With city views in the distance, the rugged terrain is brilliant for the animals to enjoy – giving guests more of a sense of what life in the wild might be like for many of these magnificent creatures. There are plenty of fun activities for little ones, and it is great to see animals close up and well cared for. It also isn’t too expensive to visit Prague Zoo. Adult tickets cost 250 CZK which is the equivalent of around £8.33 GBP or $11.62 USD. Dogs are also allowed as visitors too! This surely makes it worthy of a place on a list of best zoos in the world…

#3 Chester Zoo

Located in the north west of the UK, Chester Zoo in Cheshire is always a highly rated experience. Established in 1931 and covering 126 acres, the zoo is now home to over 35,000 animals. The zoo also owns the land outside of the public area, on which they grow food for the herbivorous animals within the zoo. They are a registered charity receiving no government funding.

Chester Zoo have an integrated approach when it comes to their conservation work. This combines people, places, policy and populations. They have a team working in six locations around the globe, and their mission is constantly evolving based on the needs of the planet and the animals who live here. There is a sustainability pledge in place at the zoo itself, and they are working on many projects including pioneering new breeding technologies and researching animal endemics. 

Guests describe a visit to Chester Zoo aas educational and fun, with plenty to see and do. It really is one of the best zoos in the world, with a huge amount of information placed at exhibits and various chances to learn and engage. The grounds are beautiful – and the theming and attention to detail when it comes to the decor of the different areas is incredible. Kids adore this place, too. It isn’t massively expensive, either: £24.55 for an adult ticket or £19.55 for a child’s ticket, with discounts for students and seniors.

#4 Singapore Zoo

Smaller than many other zoos, don’t be put off by this – Singapore Zoo still packs a punch and many consider it to be one of the best zoos in the world. It covers just 69 acres of heavily forested area, and welcomes over 2 million visitors per year. The zoo is home to 315 species of animals, who are separated from visitors by wet and dry moats. There is added glass separating visitors from more dangerous animals who are able to climb well…

There are various shows at the zoo, and annual events. Singapore Zoo has a more open design than many other zoos, giving guests a more realistic and inspiring experience. Exhibits are spacious and well taken care of, as well as being stimulating for the animals and reflective of their respective natural habitats. There are plenty of chances to learn about the different species here. A lot of information is available to guests. Offering unique encounters and running a successful captive breeding programme, Singapore Zoo hits many points on the list of ‘what makes a good zoo’!

Reviews describe the zoo as a must-visit in Singapore, and praise the unobstructed views of these amazing animals. From the interactive features to the wealth of education available, guests always enjoy their time here. The price is middle of the road in comparison to other zoos; an adult ticket is $41 (Singapore dollars) which is around £22.10 (GBP) and a child ticket is $28 or around £15.

biggest zoos in the world
Photo by Aenic on Pexels.com

#5 Vienna Zoo

Otherwise known as Tiergarten Schönburnn, Vienna is home to one of the best zoos in the world. It is one of the only places where you can see pandas in captivity! It is also the oldest zoo in the world and it is located on a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit here is like traveling across continents, with different species at every turn – over 700 of them!

Vienna Zoo is an education center, offering many chances to learn and explore. A lot of teaching and research takes place here. They were the first zoo to breed an elephant in captivity (1906) and they have been able to breed pandas here too. With zoological research and progressive science, they have been successful in many breeding and conservation efforts.

Are the biggest zoos in the world also the best zoos in the world?

I think that we can safely say that the biggest zoos in the world are not necessarily the best zoos in the world. But, each zoo is different and each has its merits and limitations. And remember- do your research before visiting any tourist attraction that involves wildlife.

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