Dallas Zoo Review Date of Visit: May 19, 2015 The Dallas Zoo is one of my favorite zoos, especially since it features my two all-time favorite animals (elephants and gorillas) in state of the art habitats. Also, as an African animal lover in general, I adore the Giants of the Savanna and Wilds of Africa parts of the zoo which are as immersive and outstanding as possibly any city zoo’s exhibits for the dark continent (that might change when I go to Kansas City in May.) Habitats for the abovementioned elephants and gorillas as well as tigers, lions, cheetahs, chimpanzees, warthogs, giraffes, zebras, antelope, meerkats, mandrills, Nile crocodiles, penguins and otters are some of the very best around and what the zoo lacks in comprehensiveness it makes up for in quality. Excellent Giants of the Savanna- A landmark exhibit that takes immersion, exhibit design and animal husbandry to a breathtaking level. The main feature is a magnificent expansive savanna that sometimes is divided into multiple yards and at other times combined as one enormous one where African elephants, giraffes, zebras, ostriches and impala (now greater kudu and Nile lechwe) intermingle together. On the day of my visit the elephants were in the front part of the habitat while the hoofstock were seen further down. If you’ve heard me talk about exhibits you probably know that I love muddy backdrops and realistic rocks that immerse visitors and animals into their natural habitat. I can honestly saw the muddy backdrops in this exhibit are the very best I’ve ever seen done anywhere and the attention to detail in this exhibit is unbelievable. The watering holes are tastefully designed and have plenty of depth and size for elephants to fully submerge. The muddy shores of the watering holes gracefully turn into the grassy plains as the elevation goes up. There are tons of trees for the giraffes to browse and the grass is relatively well-maintained for an exhibit that could easily have turned into a dustbowl. A few shade structures are present but they blend in quite well and are not distracting. The mix of sand, grass and vegetation in the exhibit is brilliant and there is good use of variations in terrain and elevation and enrichments such as termite mounds and knocked over trees. The habitat genuinely feels like a savanna at the edge of a watering hole in Botswana. The only savanna I’ve seen that might be better is the Heart of Africa in Columbus and the only elephant exhibit I’ve seen that might be better is North Carolina. Does anyone who has seen them know how Sedgwick and Omaha live up to the elephant exhibits at Dallas and North Carolina? Warthogs live in sandy habitats with excellent muddy backdrops and brilliant use of enrichment and hiding spots. Lions have a relatively large kopje exhibit with great use of rockwork and a few trees dotting the landscape. The habitat is very open (although good shade is provided at the front) and the viewing windows are superb. I would say it’s one of the best lion exhibits I’ve seen. Cheetahs live in a similar grassy habitat that is also excellent and one of the best around. Across the board, Giants is zoological geniusism and worth a visit to the zoo alone. Wilds of Africa- I know technically Giants is part of this complex but here I’m focusing on the older parts of the exhibit area. Unfortunately the monorail was down while I was there so I will not be reviewing it. After crossing through a tunnel, the first exhibit you see in Wilds of Africa is Penguin Cove, an excellent habitat for a colony of African penguins with underwater viewing. The exhibit isn’t enormous but has tons of detail and feels very immersive with a huge pool, a waterfall and lots of great rockwork. It is currently the best penguin exhibit I’ve ever seen. Up next is a rocky habitat for mandrills and it is definitely one of the three best mandrill exhibits I’ve seen (Bronx and San Diego being the other two.) A huge stream coming from a waterfall dominates the exhibit and there are plenty of realistic enrichments and a few trees to occupy the mandrill’s interests. Flamingos live in an excellent pool nearby where a trail begins to start. A troop of gorillas lives in a relatively large gorgeous habitat with dense vegetation and a high level of naturalism. When I went it was a rainy day which enhanced the idea of walking around in the elusive Congo forest. I much prefer the immersive, naturalistic gorilla exhibits with thick canopies and actually recreate a rainforest to the ones which are more open and have lots of fake looking enrichments and this one definitely goes for the former. The undergrowth is very impressive with clearings that allow guests to get a good view of the apes and real trees are a big plus. Definitely one of the five best gorilla exhibits I’ve seen and possibly one of the five best in the nation. The research station in which the gorillas are viewed in is also well done and quite educational. Up next are a solid habitat for wattled cranes and an excellent aviary for African forest birds. Then visitors reach Isle of the Crocodile, the second best Nile crocodile exhibit I have seen (after Busch Gardens.) The amount of water is immense and the exhibit is designed to look like an immersive clearing. Then comes one of the very best chimpanzee exhibits in the country, which is spacious and located on a hill. The lush vegetation and room to allow the chimpanzees to run and play is incredible and it truly feels like you’re transported to the ape’s natural habitat. Termite mounds and a variety of logs and ropes provide great enrichments for the chimps. A modern wall is quite visible in the background, which is the only weakness to the habitat. A kopje habitat for klipspringers and hyraxes (clearly modeled after African Kopje in San Diego) is fabulously immersive and meerkats live next door in an exhibit filled with mounds and sand. Saddle-billed storks have an excellent grassy yards and on the time of my visits okapis and duikers shared a large grassy shaded yard. However, that exhibit is currently closed as Simmons Hippo Outpost is constructed. I’m very excited for Hippo Outpost and plan to come back sometime after it opens. Exxon Tiger Habitat- One of the three best tiger exhibits I’ve seen and probably one of the top ten if not five in the country. The exhibit recreates the tiger’s habitat of an Asian forest spectacularly and the amount of trees, vegetation and bamboo create an elusive, mystical atmosphere. There is a lot of space here and a huge pool, several enrichments and plenty of hiding opportunities make this a great place to be a tiger. Otter Outpost- An immersive habitat for Asian small-clawed otters complete with underwater viewing. While not as spectacular as the one at the National Zoo, it is an excellent enclosure and recreates its natural habitat quite well. Lemur Lookout- A nice exhibit for a couple species of lemurs with a good amount of trees and space. Not the best I have seen but quite good. Average Primate Place- A cluster of average topped exhibits for a variety of monkeys for Africa, Asia and South America. I don’t like how the exhibits are basically glorified cages but they do have a fair amount of space and climbing opportunities reminding me of a similar complex at the Toledo Zoo. Species present include spider monkeys, colobus monkeys, titi monkeys, golden lion tamarins, langurs, gibbons and saki monkeys. Not bad but nothing to write home about. Giant Anteater- A relatively mundane and uninspired habitat for giant anteaters. Koala Walkabout- Once again, an average and generic Australian exhibit with the only special quality being the only exhibit in Texas with koalas. Koalas live in a dull all indoor exhibit that is no different from other koala habitats. Kangaroos, wallabies and emus live in your run-of-the-mill grassy yard outside with a Kookaburra aviary nearby. Poor Texas Cats- The only part of the zoo that is significantly substandard and should be bulldozed right away. I believe this exhibit complex used to hold exotics like lions but thank god those days are over. Cougars, bobcats and ocelots live in small caged habitats that are grossly substandard. Perhaps no zoo has soared as much in the past ten years as the Dallas Zoo, when many of its megafauna lived in grossly outdated exhibits. I highly enjoyed my visit and am super excited for the upcoming hippo exhibit. I hope species such as rhinoceros, orangutans and bears return to the zoo to make the collection more well-rounded. I would probably say Dallas belongs anywhere from 8 to 15 in terms of ranking the nation’s best zoos.