10 Largest Zoo in the World (by Area)

Zoos are almost as old as the ancient civilizations. Archeologists have found evidence of zoos from thousands of years ago in Egypt and China. Ancient royalty displayed captured rare and, to them, exotic animals for view or for study. Of course, some believed these animals may grant special powers.

As knowledge grew, societies started to keep animals for studies. Still, zoos were mostly for the wealthy. The 16th century British government opened their menagerie to the public and charged a fee to see lions and camels.

Today, zoos serve several purposes. They enlighten the public about the animals we share the planet with. They serve as a home for animals that may become extinct and the offer an opportunity to study and learn from the animals we might never see in their natural habitat.

  1. Berlin Zoological Garden

Area: 35 hectares
Year opened: 1844
Number of animals: 20,200

Berlin Zoological Garden
Source: By Dieter Brügmann [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

While smaller in area, the Berlin Zoo hosts as wide a variety of species as the larger zoos on the list at 1,380 different species and over 20-thousand animals. The first animals were donated in 1844 by the then King of Prussia Frederick William IV. The zoo is located in the Tiergarten, one of the oldest parks in the city. The busiest zoo in Europe receives 3.5 million visitors annually.

Did You Know?

The Berlin Zoo played a role in World War II. Nazi forces used the zoo for a refuge for soldiers and late in the war placed anti-aircraft guns there. Most animals there died from the bombing in Berlin.

  1. Henry Doorly Zoo

Area: 53 hectares
Year opened: 1894
Number of animals: 17,000

Henry Doorly Zoo
Source: Cburnett [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The zoo, located in Omaha, Nebraska, was first named the Riverview Park Zoo. A local philanthropist donated several hundred thousand dollars to the zoo on the condition it be renamed for her late husband Henry Doorly.

The zoo boasts nearly 1,000 different species and one of the largest indoor rainforest exhibits in the world, the Lien Jungle. It also has an aquarium featuring a tank that holds a million gallons of water and an amusement park.

Did You Know?

The zoo offers visitors a ride on the Omaha Zoo Railroad, a steam locomotive that transports visitors to different areas of the facility.

  1. Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Area: 66 hectares
Year opened: 1889
Number of animals: 2,700

Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Source: By Quadell [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The National Zoo, located north of Washington, D.C., is part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Conservation Biological Institute (SCBI). The zoo is open to the public for viewing, while the SCBI is focused on research and protecting endangered species.

Among the 400 species kept at the zoo, the giant pandas are one of the most well-known. The pandas were donated by the Chinese government in the early 1970s. The zoo attracts 2 million visitors each year.

Did You Know?

For approximately a decade, the National Zoo experienced the death of several mammals in the facility, which prompted a federal investigation.

  1. National Zoological Gardens of South Africa

Area: 86 hectares (210 acres)
Year opened: 1899
Number of animals: 9,000

National Zoological Gardens of South Africa
Source: NJR ZA [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

What has become the Pretoria Zoo was first a menagerie on the farm of the Boer leader and South African president Stephanus Schoeman. The state acquired the land in 1895, and J. W. B. Gunning  opened the Pretoria Zoo in 1899.

The zoo houses 700 species, most of which are native to South Africa. Visitors can view the animals in their natural habitat as there is a Savannah exhibit in the zoo. There is also an aquarium and a reptile park.

Did You Know?

The zoo saved 150 flamingo chicks in 2019 as part of a South African effort to save the birds suffering from poor climate conditions.

  1. Beijing Zoo

Area: 89 hectares
Year opened: 1906
Number of animals: 14,500

Beijing Zoo
Source: Unknown [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The zoo was founded in the Qing dynasty on the grounds of an old Imperial Manor. It began as a small menagerie run by the Imperial government. All the animals were actually imported from Germany. The zoo opened to the public in 1908.

During the conflict with Japan and World War II, the animals were killed or they starved. The Chinese government revitalized the zoo in the 1950’s.

The zoo also houses the largest aquarium in China. The site also houses a planetarium and several buildings of historical import.

Did You Know?

The zoo’s original name Wanshouyuan means “Garden of Ten-thousand beasts.”

  1. Bronx Zoo

Area: 106 hectares
Year opened: 1899
Number of animals: 4,000

Bronx Zoo
Source: Stavenn [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Even in 1895 when the plans for the zoo were first considered, New York City was busy and bustling. It was difficult to find a suitable location within the city’s borders. The members of the New York Zoological Society picked the Bronx because of the availability of unconstructed land and the ease of access from the rest of the city. There were over 800 animals from 22 different species.

Today, the number of species exceeds 400. The venue is often crowded with visitors observing nine different exhibits on the 265 acre space.

Did You Know?

The Bronx Zoo is one of the few facilities to ever hold a thylacine, a predatorial marsupial that is now extinct.

  1. Columbus Zoo

Area: 234 hectares
Year opened: 1927
Number of animals: 7,000

Columbus Zoo
Source: By Hussain Alwan [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

There are over 800 species found in the zoo, located in Columbus, OH. The zoo also encompasses a golf course, a water park and an amusement park.

The zoo began operation as a private facility, the Columbus Zoological Society. The city government took over the day-to-day operations in 1927. A non-profit organization is responsible for providing funding today. However, public funds still contributes.

Many Americans know of the zoo thanks to the media appearances of its longest-serving director Jack Hanna.

Did You Know?

Hanna and his wife have been immortalized in statue form in front of the zoo.

  1. Toronto Zoo

Area: 287 hectares
Year opened: 1974
Number of animals: 5,000

Toronto Zoo
Source: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Toronto Zoo is the largest zoo in Canada. Prior to its 1960s incarnation as the Metro Toronto Zoo, it was the Riverdale Zoo in 1885. Today, the zoo features seven different exhibits and 700 different species.

Did You Know?

The zoo hopes to address food waste and energy shortages with the Zoo Share project. It will take animal waste and convert it into biogas that will produce heat and electricity for Toronto.

  1. Zoo Miami

Area: 304 hectares
Year opened: 1980
Number of animals: 3,000

Zoo Miami
Source: Averette [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Zoo Miami is the largest zoo in the United States and the largest zoo in North America. It’s the largest by area; however, half of the facilities’ 735 acres remains undeveloped. Various companies have planned to build some kind of theme park on the undeveloped land but no decisions have been finalized.

The zoo has five exhibits or “stations” connected by a monorail system. The most recently completed station focuses on the wildlife of the Florida everglades.

Did You Know?

The zoo began when a travelling road show’s truck broke down. The show’s owner traded six animals to cover the cost of repairs.

  1. Arignar Zoological Park

Area: 602 hectares
Year opened: 1855
Number of animals: 2,302

Arignar Zoological Park
Source: Rasnaboy [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The Arignar Zoological Park in Vandalur in India is the largest zoo by area in the world. The facility includes a space reserved for the care of rescued animals, which is approximately 90 hectares. The rest of the space is for the zoo.

It was the Madras Zoo during the 19th century British colonial rule. It was located within the urban area of Chennai. In 1976, the Indian government moved the zoo to an area with more room to expand. Today, the zoo has 81 enclosures, including two aviaries, a “safari” area and an aquarium.

Did You Know?

You can care for one of the zoo’s rescue animals – financially, at least – through the zoo’s adoption program.

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