Do you love animals? We do! Here in Wonderopolis we love to learn about all creatures, great and small. One fun way to see lots of animals in one trip is by visiting a local zoo.

Depending upon where you live, you may have several zoos nearby. You may also have other animal attractions nearby, such as game reserves. Unlike zoos, where animals are contained in their own shelters, game reserves allow wildlife to run free throughout their grounds.

Game reserves, many of which are located in Africa, allow people to sightsee and sometimes even hunt the animals. Zoos, on the other hand, care for animals for entertainment and educational purposes.

The word “zoo” was first used to describe the London Zoological Gardens in 1847. Up until that time, zoos were usually called menageries. Since zoos were often set up for the scientific study of animals, it was only natural that the word “zoo” would eventually come to refer to these places dedicated to zoology, which is the study of animals.

The idea of bringing together a collection of wild animals has ancient origins. The oldest such collection of animals is thought to have existed in Egypt in 3500 B.C. The collection is thought to have contained elephants and baboons. The first zoo in the United States — the Central Park Zoo — opened in New York City in 1860 and is still in operation.

Most zoos have special enclosures built specifically for each type of animal they house. These enclosures are meant to be as similar as possible to the animals’ natural habitats. For example, penguins might be placed in a special enclosure that closely replicates the cold climate conditions they’re used to in the wild.

So where’s the largest zoo in the world? There are actually many zoos that claim to be the largest zoo in one way or another. It all depends upon what criteria you use to measure the size of the zoo. Here are some of the largest zoos in the United States:

If you measure size by the land area of the zoo, then the title of largest zoo goes to the Red McCombs Wildlife in Texas. This wildlife preserve contains 20 different animal species on over 12,000 acres of land.

If you measure size by the number of different species housed at the zoo, then the largest zoo would be the San Diego Zoo. One of the most famous zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo houses an astounding number of animals: over 4,500 animals from over 900 different species!

If you combine land area and number of species, one of the largest zoos has to be the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. It houses thousands of animals from hundreds of species on over 130 acres of land. It’s no surprise that the Henry Doorly Zoo is the top paid attendance attraction in Nebraska!

20 Join the Discussion

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  1. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I loved today’s wonder! I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about languages.

    I didn’t leave a comment yesterday or the day before because I was too busy.

    Remember back on wonder of the day #639 – Who invented lego blocks? I thought wonder of the day #640 was about grills and I was right. Wonder of the day #640 was about grills. Wonder of the day #640 was Do you like to cook outside?


  2. I didn’t know that you could measure zoos differently! I love learning all about the Wonder of the Day. I’m always curious about different things.

  3. We have a bunch of animals at our zoo we even have bats that drink cow blood and fruit bats.Thanks for a wild wonder!

    • Wow! Sounds like you guys have a WONDERful zoo to explore :) Do you have a favorite animal that you visit? Or is it the bat caves?!

  4. If you are doing the length and width,then the biggest zoo is the Miami zoo.The zoo is big as a mall has more than 20 animals,a few playgrounds,and a monorail that goes around the zoo.:-)

  5. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Hi! Lani here, I could not make the cards because I was in the hostspital for a REALLY LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGG TIME!!!!!! I had to get a new heart. I’m all better now! I wanted to know if I could make a WOTD about ASL? Well, I have to go to the doctors now! BYE!
    Sincerely Your
    Leilani (AKA Lani) Ps I a going to try to post a comment everyday now!

  6. We think the fish are weird looking at the beginning and the other animals are really cute. -Savannah
    Please make a movie with cuter fish and cuter animals. -Sydney

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Where is the largest zoo?
  • What’s the difference between a zoo and a game reserve?
  • Where did the word zoo come from?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Ready to visit the zoo? Talk with a teacher, friend or family member to find out what zoos are closest to where you live. Then make plans to visit one soon!

You can go online to find out if the zoo you want to visit has an official website. If it does, you can find out more information about the types of animals you’ll see there. You might want to make a “must see” list of animals to make sure you don’t miss any animals you really want to see.

If you can’t make it to a zoo in the near future, you can go online to take a virtual tour of one of the zoos below:

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Preserving Biodiversity activity, children take on the role of zoo director with a mission to teach people about the importance of biodiversity.

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s brand-new Wonder of the Day might have you speaking a whole new language!

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