Busch Gardens Review Date of Visit: April 26, 2013 I grew up around 2 hours away from Busch Gardens and went quite frequently as a child. It was one of the places that helped me fall in love with animals so it has quite a lot of sentimental value to me. I’d say exhibit quality wise it ranges from average to state-of-the-art and the collection is predominantly African with a few exceptions. While the exhibits are quite good, the atmosphere is hurt by two things. One most visitors do not view Busch Gardens as a zoo and, even in comparison to DAK, have minimal interest about the animals. Also, the theme park atmosphere is quite invasive and many times animal habitats have roller coasters clearly in the backgrounds and sometimes at close proximity. This makes a toxic environment for the zoo animals and limits how highly I rate this facility. Excellent Myombe Reserve- I’d say this is the section that most effectively cuts itself off from the theme park atmosphere, in large parts due to it being on a separate path and being located inside a dense canopy of forest. It starts out with a large pool for a group of alligators. As you walk in, you become immersed in a Congolese rainforest and soon find a habitat for chimpanzees. The exhibit is fairly large and incredibly lush. The rock backdrops work well, trees and vegetation provide good shade, quite a few great enrichments and ropes are present, a small wooden hut is an interesting feature and the varied elevation and terrain is brilliant. I would say this is one of the best chimp exhibits in the nation and it reminds me a lot of Chimps of Mahale Mountain in Los Angeles. A very similar but large gorilla exhibit can be found nearby. It is loaded with waterfalls, bushes, changes in elevation and quite realistic rockwork. In particular, the viewing windows are quite stunning and it is a thrill to get so close to the magnificent apes. I appreciate how it gives the gorillas a lot of choices in where they want to be and what they want to be doing. My least favorite part of the exhibit is a relatively deep moat at part of the exhibit since I have a particular disdain for moats used in primate exhibits. I would say it is one of the best gorilla exhibits around and one of the lushest with a select few I have seen (Bronx, Houston, Dallas, DAK and possibly San Diego and/or Atlanta) in front of it. Edge of Africa- Alongside Myombe Reserve the best the facility has to offer. The vegetation surrounding the path is all African and details such as tents and rocks create the immersion you’re walking around an African reserve. At the start of the complex lemurs live in a nice island exhibit dotted with palm trees. Next to them Nile hippopotamuses and crocodiles live in adjacent habitats with underwater viewing. The hippo land area is rocky and medium sized but the pool is enormous and loaded with fish. I would say this is the second best underwater viewing of a hippo I have seen (with San Diego just ahead) and it is a thrill to see the river horses lumber around in the water. The rockwork inside the pool is meticulously down and a marvel to behold. A similar Nile crocodile exhibit is found next door and is the best exhibit I have seen for the species. The land area is smallish but the water is perfect and this is the ideal habitat for a crocodile to live in. Up next are two predator habitats for lions and spotted hyenas. The lion habitat has great viewing from long rectangular windows and a safari vehicle. The exhibit has a good mix of rocks and grass with a cave predominantly in the middle. It is somewhat hilly has a lot of space for the cats to move around. The natural bush backdrops are quite immersive and it is the perfect place for lions to lounge around. I would guess it is a top ten lion exhibit in the country. Next up is the best spotted hyena exhibit I have ever seen. It is smaller but similar to the lion habitat and I believe the animals sometimes rotate. It is quite immersive, naturalistic and has absolutely brilliant use of hills and rocks. Parts of the exhibit are shaded and have places for the hyenas to hide while others are more open. In the back the Serengeti Plain can be seen which will be analyzed later. Further down the path a solid meerkat exhibit can be found with plenty of mounds and digging opportunities. A large yard houses a variety of African birds and views of the vast Serengeti can be found. Last a stellar flamingo pool is one of the very best I’ve seen. Overall quite a worthwhile trip into the heart of Africa. Serengeti Plain- A gargantuan savanna divided into two parts: the more accessible, visible one contains giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, elands, impalas, addaxes, ostriches and Marabou stork and the more remote one that can only be viewed by train contains white rhinoceros, wildebeests, Grant’s zebras and greater kudu. I know Snowleopard destroyed this exhibit when reviewing it but I find it quite immersive and impressive. The savanna covered with grass and dotted with palm trees seems to never end and the animals are free to run around as they please. The revolutionary plain opened in 1965 and has since expanded but the quality of grass is quite impressive for such an old exhibit. However, the downside is the viewing sucks. Only parts of it can be seen by foot and a mediocre train ride surrounding it is not that good. Also, roller coasters are constantly found in the backdrops and you can actually see the animals as you ride some of them. The best way to see this habitat is by taking a Serengeti Safari inside it but that costs a fortune. Phenomenal habitat but not an intimate viewing experience by any means. Average Jungala- This Asian exhibit replaced the outdated tiger island in 2008. However, I feel a bit disappointed by the complex. The tigers have an exhibit that’s perfectly large enough but just not as forested or naturalistic as I would like. On the plus side, it has a big pool, decent rockwork and plenty of space for the tigers to hide, climb and walk in. An orangutan habitat is quite large but severely lacking in climbing opportunities and only a few ropes and a few palm trees are found. Cheetah Exhibit- Besides being next to a roller coaster, this exhibit doesn’t do much for me. I hate the ruined temple atmosphere of it and it is not as large as other cheetah exhibits. It is quite bare with only a rocky ridge in the middle. Bird Gardens- The oldest part of the zoo which doesn’t have much to interest non bird lovers. Random hoofstock yards- A few small generic hoofstock yard are found around, including a subpar one for Thomson’s gazelle on the main path. Poor Jambo Junction- A quite mediocre set of habitats for a number of small animals. Crocodile Exhibit- I don’t know if it’s still there but when I was younger there was an absolutely awful crocodile tank in Timbuktu that was inadequate for its residents. Asian Elephants- This is a rare case where an older exhibit was better than the current one. The elephants used to live across the path in their own exhibit which had an elaborate palace-looking house in the back and a watery moat habitat that was average at best. It was not a great exhibit but nothing bad. At least the pool was great, the shading structures decent and the rockwork well done. When the now closed Rhino Rally opened they moved across the street to a weaker exhibit. It is bone dry and has at most an acre of space. One pool is found but this habitat is bland and cramped for its inhabitants. Yuck. Theme Park Atmosphere- As I said above this is a theme park and has all that comes with it- loud speakers, guests who could care less about animals, lots of noise, tons of rides and rollercoasters, gift shops and crowds galore and a diminished zoo atmosphere. Overall I enjoy Busch Gardens despite its flaws but find the atmosphere and vibe distracting. Exhibits for lions, hyenas, gorillas, chimpanzees, hippos and crocodiles are state of the art and the Serengeti Plain is an institution. I would probably rank it around 25 on my list of all-time best zoos.