“The back story of the park is conservation and connecting people with nature,” animal operations director John Lehnhart says of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The unique lay-out allows visitors to see animals up close and personal in spacious, realistic habitats, without bars separating them. The 1,500 exotic animals of the Kilimanjaro Safari have free reign around the 110-acre African savannah. In total, the park spans more than 500 acres. There are a number of innovative animal parks around the world that showcase a modern take on the traditional animal enclosures of yesteryear.
It should come as no surprise that America houses many of the world’s best animal habitats. In New York City, the 265-acre Bronx Zoo is home to over 6,000 animals, many of which are on the endangered species list. The Bronx has been operating its animal center since 1889 as the largest of the metropolitan animal parks and was the first place to house (and breed) rare snow leopards. Additionally, it’s the first park to house a predator-prey animal exhibit, where lions and gazelles are separated merely by dry moats, and it was also the first zoological center to host an educational program. Visitors love the Wild Asia tramway monorail, the indoor JungleWorld display and the 6.5-acre Congo Monkey Forest, which is the largest man-made rainforest in the world. Guests will also see a number of babies at this bustling breeding facility, including dwarf mongoose, lemur, okapi, sea lion, rhino, lion and pit viper species.
Another one of the top animal parks to visit state-side is the San Diego Zoo in California, one of the largest and most progressive zoos in the world, housing over 4,000 animals. Here visitors will find the largest display of giant pandas outside of China. Other highlights include the polar bear plunge, the okapis in Ituri Forest and the spacious elephant habitat. San Diego also has the world’s only albino koala, the largest number of New Guinea singing dogs in one place and an “escape artist” orangutan named Ken Allen. In addition to this expansive park, there is also the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which was created for endangered animals and rare species to breed and proliferate in an expansive state-of-the-art park without cages. Their free-range exhibits include free-range enclosures that house such animals as cheetahs, antelopes, lions, giraffes, okapis, elephants, zebras, Przewalski’s horses, rhinos and bonobos.
There are also a number of European animal parks that have achieved world fame for their impressive exhibits. For instance, the Berlin Zoological Garden in Germany boasts the largest animal collection in the world with more than 14,000 animals from 1,440 species. They have had enormous success breeding white rhinos, black rhinos, gaurs, pandas and polar bears, as well as rare deer and pig species. The Chester Zoo in the UK ushers in 1.2 million visitors a year, who come to see their sizable collection of endangered species, including the Congo buffalo, jaguars, blue-eyed cockatoos, Madagascar tree boas, gemsboks (all ESB species), black rhinoceros, Ecuadorian Amazon parrots, Mindanao writhe-billed hornbill and Rodrigues fruit bats, all of which are bred at the park. They’re also noted for having the largest ape enclosure in all of Europe.
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