Detroit Zoo Review Date of Visit: July 2010 The Detroit Zoo is the second best zoo in the Midwest I have been to after Columbus and in my opinion one of the most underrated in the country. Not only is there the famous Arctic Ring of Life complex which includes the best polar bear exhibit in the nation but also several excellent habitats for a wide variety of species. The collection is not enormous but fairly representative and this zoo definitely chooses quality over quantity. It should be even better now that the Warchol Beaver Habitat, Wolf Wilderness and world-class Polk Penguin Center are open. The only knock on this zoo is it does not have a ton of cohesive themed exhibit complexes. Also, a lot of people in the zoo world became unhappy at Detroit when it made the decision to phase out elephants. Detroit definitely has strong values and opinions when it comes to animal husbandry and, while I do not agree with it on elephants, it definitely shows in the quality of exhibitry and animal care on the site. Excellent Arctic Ring of Life- The best polar bear exhibit around and one of the very best complexes in the world. Even during my visit on a hot summer day, parts of the exhibit actually looked like snow and ice and you really feel like you’re walking through the Arctic tundra. The amount of space for the bears is unprecedented and it is meticulously designed to address the welfare needs and natural behaviors of the animals. One part of the exhibit is filled with fake ice that looks amazingly slippery and natural and the icy backdrops are incredibly detailed and realistic. I’ve seen so much awful Arctic mock rock that I can definitely say this is a ground-breaking achievement. This part of the habitat is at a slight hilt and the bears have plenty of room to walk around and explore. The second part of the habitat is the water portion which has a breathtaking tunnel where visitors can see the polar bears swim above them. This is one of only two polar bear tunnels I know about (I have also seen Pittsburgh which while newer is substandard.) The pool is gargantuan and the water is quite clear. At times it really feels as if the water goes on forever on both sides. The last part of my habitat is my favorite- a huge grassy meadow. The exhibit recreates a tundra environment and does a brilliant job at it. The grass is quite naturalistic and has different lengths, which creates a nice texture. The rockwork looks very organic and doesn’t look fake at all. A smaller pool is found here where the polar bears can swim as well. I love how this exhibit showcases the variety of aspects to a polar bear’s habitat and puts so much thought into the details and characteristics needed to immerse the bears and visitors into its natural habitat. I also appreciate how it allows the bears to have their space and not constantly have to be at close proximity with guests. They have so many opportunities to swim and move around their lives are constantly enriched. Harbor seals have a nice immersive exhibit that can also be viewed through the tunnel and is at close proximity to the polar bears, making this the best predator/prey exhibit I have seen alongside the lion/savanna one at Columbus. Arctic foxes have a nice grassy exhibit as well. Arctic Ring of Life makes Detroit a must see for any zoo enthusiast by itself and is truly world class. Great Apes of Harambee- A set of enormous habitats where gorillas, chimpanzees and the rare drills rotate between. It is certainly one of the largest exhibit complexes of its type in the U.S. if not necessarily the most naturalistic or immersive. The three habitats are quite hilly and grassy creating a fairly open environment. However, there are plenty of deadfalls, rocks, enrichments and a few tall trees and termite mounds to provide enrichment for the apes. I appreciate the amount of enrichments and climbing opportunities the apes have even if it lacks the rainforest canopy of other top tier ape exhibits. For some reason, I feel this exhibit works better for the chimps than it does for the gorillas perhaps since I associate gorillas more with denser rainforest and this exhibit gives the chimps a good amount of opportunities to climb. I would probably say it’s a lock for a top 10 chimp exhibit in the nation and a top 15 gorilla exhibit. Red Panda Exhibit- One of the best red panda exhibits I’ve ever seen with tons of space and tall trees for them to climb. It is a hilly enclosure and has a rock formation in the middle. This is an excellent exhibit about how an older exhibit can be used to be excellent for its inhabitants. Australian Outback Adventure- The best kangaroo exhibit I’ve ever seen and the walkthrough portion works quite well. It is enormous and quite grassy. A few trees and several bushes provide good shade for the marsupials and this exhibit is better themed than most Australian habitats I have seen. Amphibville- An excellent amphibian house and probably one of if not the best in the country. Even worth visiting for those not that interested in amphibians. Holden Reptile Conservation Center- This herpetarium actually holds up quite well despite being fairly old and it holds a marvelous collection. Resides include reticulated python, dwarf caiman, Chinese alligator, Siamese crocodile, rattlesnake, green tree python, emerald monitor, king cobra, gilda monster and Sonoran black iguana. African Bird Habitat- A beautiful, enormous yard hosting species such as flamingos, vultures, pelicans, crowned cranes and saddle-biled storks. Hoofstock Yards- This is one of the very best zoos out there for traditional style hoofstock yards since these ones are enormous, themed appropriately by geographic region, have realistic rockwork and are decently naturalistic. Bactrian camels and fallow deer live in a large grassy yard with a forested backdrop which is the best I have seen for camels at any zoo and Preswalzki’s wild horses live nearby in a similar hilly habitat. Eland now live in an excellent large grassy exhibit with a detailed rock backdrop that on my visit had lesser kudu and warthogs have a spacious open habitat that brilliantly combines mud and grass and is probably one of the best I have seen. Zebras have a solid large grassy exhibit that has plenty of room for them to run around and giraffes live next door in a decently sized yard with an Egyptian style house in the background. The giraffe house is Egyptian in style as a tribute to the civilization that created zoos. Not the best giraffe exhibit I have seen but a good one nonetheless. While not exactly hoofstock, next to the giraffes is the best aardvark exhibit I have ever seen with ample run and digging opportunities. Bison live in an excellent very large yard that recreates an America Prairie and has a nice pond in the middle. Giant anteaters have a very nice exhibit with lots of vegetation, hiding opportunities and enrichments. Guanacos, flamingos and rheas have a huge pampas habitat with an enormous pool that once housed Brazilian tapirs as well. River Otter Habitat- A good but unremarkable habitat that blends in well with other otter exhibits across America. Bush Dog Exhibit- These small carnivores have a surprisingly spacious habitat with a decent amount of vegetation. Bald Eagle- Very nice exhibit. Prairie Dog- Immersive habitat that reminds me of the meerkat exhibit at the Nasvhille Zoo. Average White Rhinoceros Exhibit- The rhinos live in the former Asian elephant exhibit, which while too small and ordinary for elephants is good for the rhinos. It is fairly barren but has a nice wallow for them to cool down, a tree for shade, deadfalls and a decent amount of space. Cat Grottoes- The lion one has been expanded and renovated since my visit and now appears to be decent. However, the tiger grotto is small and subpar in the modern day zoo world. However, it is elevated above other grottos by being larger, more naturalistic and having more realism rockwork than most grottoes. Wolverine Habitat- These carnivores live in a grotto that’s larger than most. Poor Macaque Exhibit- An outdated island for these primates is short on both space and naturalism. Bear Grottoes- Grizzly bears and black bears live in grottos that are much too small in the modern day zoo world. At least they have natural substrate and more vegetation than typical grottoes but they should really be gone by now. Penguinarium- This was a subpar penguin exhibit when I visited but has been replaced by Polk Penguin Center- which appears to be amazing. Has anyone been and seen it? Probably no zoo has taken me by surprise as much as Detroit since I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and think it’s one of the best zoos in the nation. Not many people talk about it as world class but it definitely is. I would estimate I would rank Detroit anywhere from 12 to 18 on a list of best zoos in the country.