Here is the text from my review of the Cincinnati Zoo on my blog Zoophoria. It was the first stop on my road trip which also went to Indianapolis Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Kansas City Zoo and Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. Hope you enjoy! Bonobos, Hippos and Aardwolves: An Afternoon at the Cincinnati Zoo My zoo road trip began with a spontaneous stop: a revisit to the Cincinnati Zoo, well known in the zoo world for its breeding success with rare species (it’s often called the sexiest zoo), excellent research programs and focus on sustainability. Although I had already been in 2008 and 2013, I couldn’t resist the temptation to come back when driving between Columbus and Indianapolis. Every time I visit the Cincinnati Zoo it is even better than when I came before- this time because it had finished its Africa section with the opening of Hippo Cove, Painted Dog Valley and an excellent meerkat habitat. I actually first heard of the zoo in a most unusual way. When I told my fifth grade gifted teacher I was really into zoos, she told me her brother in law Thane Maynard worked at the Cincinnati Zoo. He is now the director and I was lucky enough to meet him in 2009, when he signed the book Hope for Animals and their World, which he co-wrote with famed primatologist Jane Goodall. Having since gotten Dr. Goodall to sign the book, it is one of my most prized possessions and instrumental in inspiring me to pursue a career in zoos. Maynard has done wonderful things for the zoo. In his tenure, he has led the redevelopment of much of the zoo, green initiatives to make the zoo’s facilities environmentally friendly, a strong focus on education and even the opening of the first interactive kid’s gift shop at a zoo. Maynard has been the face of the zoo and maintained its status as one of the premier zoos in the nation. He has been one of my primary role models in the zoo field and a huge inspiration to me. I arrived at the zoo around 2 in the afternoon on a cloudy day. To enter the zoo from the parking lot, you must climb up the stairs or escalator in a tunnel that goes up hill. When I came up, I was greeted by advertisements for PhotoArk, a collection of animal photos by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. The goal of this project is to inspire visitors to care about endangered animals by seeing evocative photographs of them. I immediately noticed that along with National Geographic the gallery was designed by Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, the final destination of my road trip. The first animal habitat I visited was the Elephant Reserve, where three Asian elephant cows were enjoying their riverbed habitat featuring several trees, a nice pool and mud for them to wallow in. The pachyderms are viewed through a forested environment. When I was there, the elephants reached up to grab hay and treats that had been placed up high in the artificial trees and poles in their home. This enrichment encourages the elephants to forage and use their trunks. I got to observe the giants at close proximity and spent a long time watching them eat and interact with each other, which was amazing. While the females were outside, the Historic Elephant House (which has since been renovated to modern standards) is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is a stunning sight with its Taj Mahal style of architecture. When I went over to the smaller bull yard, animal care professionals were hard at work preparing it for him to come out. They were making changes in the environment to keep the male elephant’s experience different and stimulating each day. The zoo has long had a strong commitment to Asian elephants and is a leader in giving them the best care onsite and helping save them in the wild (www.cincinnatizoo.org.) While I could have easily watched the elephants all day, I moved on to Africa since I had not yet seen the area in its entirety. Soon I came to Giraffe Ridge, a sprawling sandy habitat with clusters of trees for Masai giraffes. They are distinctive from the reticulated giraffes more commonly seen in zoos by their dark patches. These sociable animals were found in a large herd that featured two babies who had been born at the zoo last year. A feeding session was going on at the deck, where the giraffes were receiving food given to them by visitors. Coming down from the deck came the sight of the greater flamingo flock wading in their lagoon. Further down I found the zoo’s pride of lions roaming in their replication of an African plains. Not only is their habitat is quite naturalistic with plenty of rocks, trees, shrubs and varied terrain but it also gives plenty of opportunities for them to act naturally. On my visit I saw them scratch against logs, look out at their prey around them from the rocky slopes and lounging in the shaded areas of their habitat. I also appreciated how there were several vantage points to see the lions: both from across water and from glass windows that let the guests get nose to nose with them. Several graphics and interactive features teach visitors about the lions, the threats they face in the wild and the need to save them in the wild. This is definitely one of the better lion habitats I have seen. While I got great views of the lions, the cheetahs proved elusive and were out of view on my visit. However, I found several graphics explaining the zoo is a global leader in cheetah conservation. The Cincinnati Zoo has an offsite breeding facility that has produced 59 cubs since 2002 and works with the cheetah Breeding Center Coalition to ensure a sustainable global cheetah population (www.cincinnatizoo.org.) In the field, the zoo helps protect the fastest of cats by participating in Cheetah Outeach, which conducts ambassador cheetah school presentations in South African communities, and the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which protects predators in Tanzania through monitoring, training and community outreach (www.cincinnatizoo.org.) While it was not in session on my visit, the zoo even does cheetah runs where visitors can see them run at lightning speed for a split second while learning about their plight in the wild. I was fortunate enough to watch a similar session at the Columbus Zoo last fall. The panorama of Cincinnati’s Africa is stunning as the planting and architecture has been carefully landscaped to match the continent. This is particularly evident when looking out at the main savanna, which includes three species of antelope (lesser kudu, Thomson’s gazelle and impala) and several species of bird including ostriches. On my visit, I observed an intense showdown between an impala and lesser kudu, a natural social interaction between the two species. Having mixed species together in this vast space creates a natural, enriching setting for the animals and they are free to run around their grassland. Nearby meerkats scurried in one of the largest habitats I’ve ever seen for them. One of my favorite habitats in the area was Painted Dog Valley, home to the zoo’s African wild dogs. Over a dozen of these highly sociable predators shared a rugged landscape recreating their natural habitat. At first they were lounging next to the rocky edges but after a few minutes they were up exploring their environment and interacting with each other. The most endangered of Africa’s carnivores, several graphics conveyed the threats these dogs face in the wild and the need to protect them. This might be the best African wild dog habitat I’ve ever seen. Of course the most popular part of Africa was Hippo Cove, which has gotten mainstream attention on social media because of the birth of Fiona the hippo. While she was not yet out on display, I did watch her parents Bibi and Henry lumber through the water for a long time. A little known fact is that hippos do not swim or float but rather push off the ground in the water. This habitat was built from scratch last year and uses the latest technology to meet the needs of these giant mammals as much as possible. Hippo Cove was easily the most popular part of the zoo and I along with others spent dozens of minutes watching Henry and Bibi move through the water. The huge underwater viewing area let me see clearly into their underwater world and several interpretive graphics next to it let visitors learn about these animals and the threats they face in the wild. Timing turned out great as I happened to get to watch both a hippo feeding and listen to a very insightful animal care professional talk during my visit. It was one of the absolute highlights of my visit and one of the best habitats for hippo watching. An interactive play area for kids helps them get even more excited about the hippos. With Fiona’s public debut coming soon, this area should only get more popular. After stopping by the red pandas, siamangs and sea lions, I moved onto Wolf Woods, which focuses on educating visitors about Ohio’s wildlife and inspiring them to be stewards of nature. The wolf habitat is viewed from a cabin that features a replica of a field research station containing tons of information both about Ohio’s ecosystems and the endangered Mexican wolf population in the American Southwest. Maps, journals and a variety of resources help guests engage with this conservation message. Two Mexican wolves roam a wilderness hillside perfect for them to do as they please. Nearby charismatic river otters were diving in their wetland habitat. Then I checked out Wings of the World, the zoo’s aviary that features a wide variety of birds in different environments, and the Bearline, which features older habitats for Andean, black and polar bears (the latter who were out of view.) Next came perhaps my favorite section of the zoo: Jungle Trails, which won the AZA Award for best habitat in 1994. Immediately I was transported out of Ohio and onto a mulch path in a jungle surrounded by lush vegetation, mist machines and the sounds, sights and smells of a rainforest. The first habitat I came across where Muller’s Gibbons, who had a lush canopy all to themselves and were swinging in the trees. Soon came the orangutan and white-handed gibbon habitat, one of the largest, most naturalistic and enriching for these species I have ever seen. The green hillside is packed with vines, ropes and trees for the red apes to climb, play and forage. On my visit, I saw a male orangutan explore his home on its knuckles and it was great seeing such an intelligent, complex animal enjoying such a great environment. As with the rest of Jungle Trails several educational displays and interactive features (including one where kids can swing like a gibbon) connected these habitats with their conservation in the wild. Further down Jungle Trails transitioned from Asia into Africa. Features such as an elephant skull help convey the nature of this ecosystem. Soon I encountered the bonobos, who live in a lush rainforest habitat with a dense undergrowth, several climbing opportunities, a large fallen over tree and plenty of opportunities to forage. This lets these pygmy chimps be free to behave naturally and stay active and curious. Bonobos are found at only seven zoos in America and I got the rare opportunity to see a baby bonobo on my visit. These apes were especially active and energetic on my visit. Along with chimpanzees, bonobos are human’s closest relatives and informative displays discussed how they behave and think much like we do. Inside the Africa building were several animals rarely found in America’s zoos including sifakas (a white and brown species of lemur) and aye-ayes (nocturnal animals that have bushy tails longer than their bodies.) A strong focus throughout the area is the study of primates and why understanding our closest relatives is vital to saving them. After returning from my visit to the Jungle, I checked out Rhino Reserve. The zoo has long had a rich history with rhinoceros conservation and breeding, most notably for having the first successful birth in captivity of the highly endangered Sumatran rhinoceros. While Sumatran rhinos are no longer at the zoo, the facility was instrumental in better understanding the behaviors and reproduction of one of the rarest and most elusive large mammals on the planet. However, I did get to see the black rhinos (distinct by having two horns and a prehensile lip) and Indian rhinos (distinct by their armor-like folded skin and one horn) enjoy their muddy habitats. In fact, one of the zoo’s critically endangered black rhinos is currently pregnant and will be giving birth in the near future. Also found in Rhino Reserve were grant’s zebras, okapis, bongos and lesser flamingos. This is a very nice area of the zoo to be in since it is quite cozy and gives unobstructed viewing of these gentle animals. On my visit, the Indian rhinoceros swam in their cool pool and several graphics educate visitors about the need to reverse the poaching crisis threatening these giants. Next came my visit to Manatee Springs. The zoo’s former aquarium has been transformed into a slice of Florida and educates visitors about the wildlife and ecosystems of the sunshine state. The building stars with a greenhouse habitat recreating the mangrove swamps of Florida and features a variety of flora native to the state. A habitat for American alligators lets these reptiles swim and lounge. Further down, visitors find the stars of the area, the Florida manatees. They live in a nice environment which recreates the springs they come from compete with rocks and pipes that look like logs that animal care staff fill with lettuce heads (www.zoolex.com.) Not only is it magical to see the manatees swim in their springs but the habitat is also highly educational and an active rehabilitation center. Interactive features presented as Eco-Interactions educate guests about the interactions between people and manatees and the threats these sea cows face (www.zoolex.com.) The habitat has rehabilitated fourteen manatees all of whom could not have survived if they were not rescued by the zoo. Unfortunately, I had to rush a bit through the rest of the zoo since I had less than an hour before closing. Although I had to miss the Reptile House and the World of the Insect (I had visited both of those on prior visits), I did make it through Night Hunters, home to one of the best collections of nocturnal animals and small cats in the United States. The zoo has long been known for being a leader in feline breeding and conservation and this renovation of the old cat house gives modern homes for these small cats. Among the featured felines in Night Hunters are clouded leopards, caracals, Pallas cats, ocelots, bearcats and sand cats. Additionally, the building included a lot of animals not seen at many other zoos including aardwolves, aardvarks and civets. It was a bit hard to see many of these animals since the environment was quite dark but this lighting lets them live their natural routines. Another treat in the building were the Malayan tiger cubs who were born in the zoo earlier in the year (the zoo has long been a leader in tiger conservation and breeding.) Outside were the big cats, who live in Cat Canyon. Cougars roamed a rocky habitat with plenty of opportunities to climb and hide, snow leopards lounged on a rugged hillside and tigers lived in lush lairs with a large pool to swim in. The Cincinnati Zoo is working to save wild tigers by working with Panthera, a conservation group focused on saving wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation (www.cincinnatizoo.org.) The zoo is collaborating with Panthera to stop poaching of tigers for the illegal wildlife change, protect their habitats and prevent human-tiger conflict (www.cincinnatizoo.org.) After visiting the cats, I came across the Gorilla World expansion construction. The zoo has long been a leader in gorilla conservation with over fifty births and its Gorilla World habitat was one of the first in America to have them live in a naturalistic environment. The area is getting even better with a $12 million renovation and expansion, the first phase of which opens in a few weeks and the second phase opening later this year. The first phase of the improved and enlarged habitat will give the gorillas more room, a more complex and enriching outdoor space and significantly improved behind the scenes rooms (www.cincinnatizoo.org.) This will also make it easier for animal care professionals to take state-of-the-art care of these apes. The second phase will feature a brand-new indoor habitat will not only allow guests to see the gorillas year-round but also give them a much more natural indoor space that provides natural light and plenty of opportunities for quality social interaction (www.cincinnatizoo.org. ) While I was disappointed not to see the gorillas, I am very excited for this amazing project and have faith the gorilla program at Cincinnati will continue to be one of the nation’s best. The last area of the zoo I visited was Wildlife Canyon, which features a variety of rare and unusual animals. I remember fondly seeing Sumatran rhinos in this area on my previous visits but still enjoyed it this time around. The first habitat in this region is Eagle Eyrie, a tall netted habitat that allows Steller’s sea eagles and Andean condors fly freely. This is one of very few zoos to have either species and it was a treat seeing them spread out their enormous wings. Some of the animals I encountered further down in the canyon included emus, Mongolian wild horses (a species zoos saved from the brink of extinction), Visayan warty pigs (one of my favorite animals), Bactrian camels, capybaras and a warthog. As always, I highly enjoyed my visit to the Cincinnati Zoo even though it was the only zoo on the trip I had visited before. My favorite thing about the zoo was its focus on interactive education as a means to engaging visitors with conservation. This seems to work well as the visitors were some of the most engaged and enthusiastic I have ever seen. While it is off show, I got to see the Center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Wildlife (CREW) from a distance, where the zoo is proactively working towards saving endangered species. A strong focus on conservation was found throughout the zoo and I found this really inspiring. With a great director, several cutting-edge programs, a rich history, strong green initiatives, plentiful breeding success and a promising future, this zoo is well deserving of its strong reputation in the zoo field and popularity in the community. Thank you for a great visit Cincinnati and look forward to coming back soon!