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Evaluation of Popular Taxa in Major US Zoos & Aquaria

Discussion in 'United States' started by Coelacanth18, 29 Jun 2020.

  1. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

    23 Feb 2015
    United States
    Per a suggestion posed by @snowleopard here (Subspecific Tigers in US Zoos), I decided to expand my evaluation of how common tigers were in major American zoos to other popular/ubiquitous zoo animals (also known as ABC animals). As in that thread, I used the list of zoos and aquaria in SL and @Tim Brown's new book America's Top 100 Zoos & Aquariums as my list of "major" zoos and aquariums in the United States. For reference, this is the list (with aquariums and marine parks in bold):

    ABQ BioPark Zoo
    Adventure Aquarium
    Akron Zoo
    Aquarium of the Pacific
    Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
    Audubon Zoo
    Binder Park Zoo
    Birmingham Zoo
    Bronx Zoo
    Brookfield Zoo
    Buffalo Zoo
    Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
    Caldwell Zoo
    California Academy of Sciences
    Cameron Park Zoo
    Central Park Zoo
    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
    Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
    Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
    Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
    Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
    Dallas World Aquarium
    Dallas Zoo
    Denver Zoo
    Detroit Zoo
    Disney’s Animal Kingdom
    El Paso Zoo
    Florida Aquarium
    Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
    Fort Worth Zoo
    Fresno Chaffee Zoo
    Georgia Aquarium
    Gladys Porter Zoo
    Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History
    Henry Vilas Zoo
    Honolulu Zoo
    Houston Zoo
    Indianapolis Zoo
    Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens
    John Ball Zoo
    Kansas City Zoo
    Lincoln Park Zoo
    Little Rock Zoo
    The Living Desert Zoo/Gardens
    Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens
    Louisville Zoo
    Maryland Zoo
    Memphis Zoo
    Milwaukee County Zoo
    Minnesota Zoo
    Monterey Bay Aquarium
    Montgomery Zoo
    Moody Gardens
    Mystic Aquarium

    Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
    National Aquarium
    New England Aquarium
    New York Aquarium

    North Carolina Zoo
    Oakland Zoo
    Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Garden
    Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
    Oregon Coast Aquarium
    Oregon Zoo
    Philadelphia Zoo
    Phoenix Zoo/Arizona Center for Nature Conservation
    Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
    Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
    Reid Park Zoo
    Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
    Roger Williams Park Zoo
    Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park
    Sacramento Zoo
    Saint Louis Zoo
    San Antonio Zoo
    San Diego Zoo
    San Diego Zoo Safari Park
    San Francisco Zoo
    Santa Barbara Zoo
    Seattle Aquarium
    SeaWorld Orlando
    SeaWorld San Antonio
    SeaWorld San Diego

    Sedgwick County Zoo
    Shedd Aquarium
    Smithsonian’s National Zoo
    Tanganyika Wildlife Park
    Tennessee Aquarium
    Texas State Aquarium

    Toledo Zoo & Aquarium
    Topeka Zoo & Conservation Center
    Tulsa Zoo
    Utah’s Hogle Zoo
    Virginia Zoo
    Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park
    Woodland Park Zoo
    Zoo Atlanta
    Zoo Knoxville
    Zoo Miami
    ZooTampa at Lowry Park

    In order to determine what taxa to evaluate, I used the results from @lintworm's survey of popular European zoo animals here: Ranking the stars; what are the popular zoo animals?. While it focused specifically on Europe, I think the overlap between those zoos and American zoos is very similar; that was at least the sense I got from reviewing the animals that ranked the highest. The following taxa were evaluated; unless by default or otherwise noted, they were not done at species or subspecies level:

    Bear (generally and also Polar Bear specifically)
    Hippo (River/Common and Pygmy)
    Great Ape (Gorilla, Orangutan, and Chimpanzee/Bonobo*)

    *combined for purposes of this breakdown

    I excluded Giant Panda and Koala because neither are ubiquitous outside their native regions, but included Otter as it was noted to be a glaring exception in the survey compared to the other literature LW reviewed. Cetaceans, however, were also included due to their popularity despite also not being ubiquitous; as you will see from the results, they are indeed a significant outlier (but interesting nonetheless). I considered including other ubiquitous or noteworthy taxa (red panda, flamingo, gibbon, giant tortoise, Komodo dragon, etc) but in the interest of time and effort I focused only on what came out at the very top of the survey: that is, they ranked 35 or higher for assumed popularity on a 40-point scale.

    As one additional side note, I tried to count zoos in the circumstance that a) they seem to only be out of them temporarily, or b) they are phasing them in and the project has already had funding approved or construction begun.
  2. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

    23 Feb 2015
    United States
    Results & Discussion

    I've ranked the taxa based on how many of the 100 total facilities they appeared in, with separate zoo and aquarium breakdowns. Of note: for lemur and otter the three SeaWorld parks are treated as one facility because I don't know which parks have those animals; they are thus scored out of 18 aquariums rather than 20.

    Otters: 82/98 (84%) total; 69/80 zoos (86%), 13/18 aquariums (72%)
    Lemurs: 74/98 (76%) total; 71/80 zoos (89%), 3/18 aquariums (17%)
    Lions: 71/80 zoos (89%), no aquariums
    Giraffe: 70/80 zoos (88%), no aquariums
    Bears: 69/80 zoos (86%), no aquariums
    Polar Bear: 23/80 zoos (29%)
    Tigers: 68/80 zoos (85%), no aquariums
    Great Apes: 64/80 zoos (80%), no aquariums
    Gorilla: 45/80 zoos (56%)
    Orangutan: 45/80 zoos (56%)
    Chimpanzee/Bonobo: 32/80 zoos (40%)
    Penguins: 63/100 total; 50/80 zoos (63%), 15/20 aquariums (75%)
    Rhino: 60/80 zoos (75%), no aquariums
    Meerkat: 57/80 zoos (71%), no aquariums
    Elephant: 54/80 zoos (68%), no aquariums
    Pinniped: 49/100 total; 38/80 zoos (48%), 11/20 aquariums (55%)
    Hippo: 36/100 total; 35/80 zoos (44%), 1/20 aquariums (5%)
    Common/River Hippo: 25/100; 24/80 zoos (30%), 1/20 aquariums (5%)
    Pygmy Hippo: 12/80 zoos (15%), no aquariums
    Note: 1 zoo (San Diego Zoo) had both species
    Cetacean: 10/100 total; 2/80 zoos (3%); 8/20 aquariums (40%)

    The high rank of otters and lemurs was unsurprising, as those two groups cover a lot of species, are smaller and lower maintenance than many of the others on the list, and (in the case of otters) are equally suitable for zoos and aquariums. It seems that lions, tigers, bears, and giraffes are close to universal. One number I was surprised by was how many major zoos lack meerkats - 23 out of 80 zoos on the list don't have them (though they might have a similar species of mongoose like banded or dwarf).

    Only 3 of the 14 groups failed to hit 50% of facilities: pinnipeds, hippos, and cetaceans. Pinnipeds narrowly missed the halfway mark for zoos and in total, while achieving it for aquaria. Hippo may be one of the more surprising results from this: less than half of zoos on the list have either species, and less than a third have the larger, more well-known species. The low holdings for polar bear are also a bit striking: this is largely due to a serious decline in the population due to breeding and import difficulties - the number would have been between 5-10 zoos higher just 4 or 5 years ago. Meanwhile, cetaceans were unsurprisingly the rarest by a sizable margin; SeaWorld parks aside, they are only found at 2 out of 80 zoos and 5 out of 20 aquariums (and one of those aquariums - National Aquarium in Baltimore - plans to phase them out this year).

    Only one zoo out of 80 had all 14 taxa evaluated: Brookfield Zoo, which clinched that distinction thanks to being one of only 2 zoos in the country to still keep dolphins; the other is Indianapolis, which lacks any hippos. The 5 zoos that had every non-cetacean taxa were: Albuquerque, Kansas City, Omaha, Pittsburgh, and Saint Louis. Many zoos were only missing cetaceans and one other taxa.

    There were 3 places that tied for the lowest score: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, California Academy of Sciences, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. These facilities only hold 1 of the 14 taxa each - otter, penguin, and cetacean respectively. If National Aquarium does go through with phasing out their bottlenose dolphins, they will have the distinction of being the only facility on the list of 100 without any of the 14 taxa. A few zoos' lack of popular ABC animals are easily explained, of course: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Living Desert are focused exclusively on arid climates, Central Park Zoo has a footprint of 6 acres, Nashville Zoo is a relatively new facility that is still expanding, and Minnesota Zoo has almost no tropical megafauna. As for the aquariums, most only hold the aquatic animals (although SeaWorld, Florida Aquarium, and Tennessee Aquarium also hold lemurs), and even some of the 20 major ones on this list are a bit small for aquatic megafauna like pinnipeds or cetaceans.

    Below I've compiled lists of "missing zoos" for taxa that were missing from 12 of the 80 zoos or less:

    Zoos lacking Lemur (9): Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, El Paso Zoo, Living Desert, Oklahoma City Zoo, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, Virginia Zoo, Zoo Knoxville

    Zoos lacking Lion (9): Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Living Desert* (phasing them in), Central Park Zoo, Great Plains Zoo* (planning to bring them back), Minnesota Zoo, Nashville Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Zoo Tampa

    Zoos lacking Giraffe (10): Akron Zoo, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Cameron Park Zoo, Central Park Zoo, John Ball Zoo, Little Rock Zoo, Minnesota Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo, Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

    Zoos lacking Bear (11): Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Busch Gardens Tampa, Dallas Zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Honolulu Zoo, Living Desert, Sacramento Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Santa Barbara Zoo, Tanganyika Wildlife Park

    Zoos lacking Otter (11): Binder Park Zoo, Busch Gardens Tampa, Como Park Zoo, El Paso Zoo, Gladys Porter Zoo, Great Plains Zoo, Honolulu Zoo, Living Desert, Louisville Zoo, Nashville Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

    Zoos lacking Tiger (12): Akron Zoo, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Binder Park Zoo, Birmingham Zoo* (planning to bring them back), Central Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, Living Desert, Maryland Zoo, North Carolina Zoo* (planning to phase in), Roger Williams Park Zoo* (planning to phase in), Sacramento Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo

    When thinking about these results, keep in mind that this is a selection of the largest and most well-known zoological facilities in the country; some of these trends won’t carry in general. Lemurs may be equally ubiquitous in smaller zoos as in larger ones, while the majority of US elephant holders may be on this list. A zoo doesn’t necessarily need these taxa to be successful – but it does seem that much of either the public or the zoo industry expects that a major zoo should have at least several (if not most) of the taxa evaluated here.

    A final note before anyone asks: I am not going to post the full list and data here, as making a comprehensive resource was not my intention here. If you have specific inquiries, I may be willing to answer them depending on the efficiency of doing so.
  3. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

    17 Sep 2017
    Brookfield Zoo does not have elephants.
    evilmonkey239 and nczoofan like this.
  4. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

    23 Feb 2015
    United States
    You are absolutely right; I didn't have them down for elephants either, just miscounted how many taxa they had when I was running through. In that case, not one of the 100 zoos and aquariums on this list had all 14 taxa, with 7 zoos having 13 out of 14.
  5. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

    1 Dec 2007
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    Great work @Coelacanth18 ! I love looking at statistics and you've done an exemplary job of breaking down the popular taxa at the zoos and aquariums in the book published by Tim and I. There are lots of quirky facts that emerge:

    - Dallas Zoo is arguably one of the best zoos in the nation, with an extensive collection of reptiles and amphibians (circa 120 species on-show), an impressive selection of African animals and many other delights. It's rather amazing that Dallas Zoo lacks any type of bear, with 69 out of 80 zoos (86%) having at least one bear species and Dallas having none. It makes me wonder if there is a long-term plan to add bears to the northern half of the zoo's grounds.

    - Gorillas and orangutans being tied, with 45 out of 80 zoos (56%) containing at least one of those great apes is intriguing, as I would have guessed off the top of my head that gorillas would have been slightly ahead. Chimpanzees/Bonobos in 40% of the zoos isn't as shocking, but I wonder which zoos have two or more types of great ape? ;)

    - Which zoo will be first to phase out its dolphins? Indianapolis or Brookfield? I would be surprised if both zoos had the species a decade from now.

    - As has been pointed out, both lemurs and otters are ubiquitous at just about every major American zoo. However, there are TWO zoos that have neither! El Paso and Living Desert are the two examples, which is a bit head-scratching as it would not cost a fortune to build exhibits for lemurs and otters and they are energetic, active, crowd-pleasing, popular mammals that would be big hits at both zoos.
  6. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

    23 Feb 2015
    United States
    Living Desert's focus being arid species, I'm not surprised that animals associated with freshwater and jungle habitats have been excluded. That being said, ASDM has river otter and ring-tailed lemurs actually do inhabit semi-arid environments, so I don't see why they couldn't.

    This was a breakdown I did, actually; I just didn't post it in the official write-up because it was already a lot :p But I was ready to post it if someone brought it up so here it is:

    Zoos with no Great Apes: 16 (20%)
    Zoos with 1 Great Ape: 22 (27.5%)
    Zoos with 2 Great Apes: 25 (31%)
    Zoos with 3 Great Apes: 17 (21%)

    Seems to be a pretty solid bell curve, with all options well-represented but 1-2 types (gorilla, orangutan, or Pan species) being the more common situation. More specifically:

    - 10 zoos had only Orangutan
    - 7 zoos had only Gorilla
    - 5 zoos had only Chimpanzee (none had only Bonobo)
    - 4 had Orangutan and Pan
    - 7 had Gorilla and Pan
    - 14 had Gorilla and Orangutan

    Overall not very surprising. Orangutans being from a different continent than the other great apes - along with their higher likelihood of being relegated to indoor enclosures - is most likely why close to half of the zoos that only keep one species keep them. The higher likelihood of a Gorilla/Orangutan combination also makes sense since they are both individually more widespread than the Pan species.

    One interesting thing to note is that 6 out of the 7 zoos that keep Bonobo have both Gorillas and Orangutans as well (odd one out is Jacksonville), which indicates that facilities that are more invested in apes generally are the ones who have gone into them. Also of note is that not a single one of the 80 zoos held both Pan species (Fort Worth did in recent years - they've since phased out Chimpanzee), which indicates that the two may be seen as mutually exclusive and are competing for the same exhibit space.
  7. pachyderm pro

    pachyderm pro Well-Known Member

    23 Aug 2016
    Chicago, Illinois
    I wouldn't be too sure about that. Brookfield has made quite an investment in dolphin research and somewhat recently tried to import additional animals, while Indianapolis has the visitor favorite dolphin dome. There has been no talk from either zoo of phasing them any time soon. However, both accommodations seem far too small and imo both zoos would be better off without them.
  8. TZDugong

    TZDugong Well-Known Member

    17 Nov 2017
    Toronto, ON
    Has Dallas held bears in the past? I do think it's a somewhat odd omission for a zoo of Dallas's stature (and quality), but I'm not sure where a bear species would fit into the zoo. Perhaps as an expansion of ZooNorth? I would be welcome to that idea.
    While I do like Otters and Lemurs quite a bit, I didn't really have a problem with Living Desert not exhibiting them. Part of the reason I loved Living Desert was its unique (other than ASDM:D) focus solely on Desert animals, and I wouldn't want to compromise that just because an animal is popular with visitors (although as @Coelacanth18 points out they could add them and it wouldn't be a major issue).
    snowleopard likes this.
  9. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

    23 Feb 2015
    United States
    Except for the Amur Leopard ;) (meant to be a stand-in for a desert subspecies, but still)

    Worth noting that Living Desert is currently working on new exhibits for rhinos and lions - two of the taxa evaluated here - so it does seem like they are trying to expand their ABC collection.
    evilmonkey239 and TZDugong like this.
  10. Azamat Shackleford

    Azamat Shackleford Well-Known Member

    17 Oct 2015
    Toledo currently has no lions, though they may have plans of bringing them back in the future.
    evilmonkey239 likes this.
  11. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

    23 Feb 2015
    United States
    Yes you're right, good catch. I didn't have them down for lions - I meant to list Living Desert as "having them" (since they will soon), but ended up putting it in the "Zoos missing" list instead of Toledo.
  12. Emanuel Theodorus

    Emanuel Theodorus Well-Known Member

    20 Mar 2018
    Tangerang, Indonesia
    Seems Nile Hippos in US are rarer than I thought. Which is surprising considering they are really popular animals in zoos, and here in Indonesia, most zoos I know have Nile Hippos in their collection (even Ancol Ocean Dream Samudra)

    Can you tell me what zoos out of those in the lists currently have Niles in their collection?
  13. ThylacineAlive

    ThylacineAlive Well-Known Member

    20 Oct 2012
    Connecticut, U.S.A.
    Give me like 20 minutes and I'll tell you on my thread ;)

  14. Tapir Master

    Tapir Master Well-Known Member

    18 Sep 2020
    Montgomery, Illinois
    Agreed. It’s a shame that so few US zoos even still have Nile Hippos.

    It only makes me wish San Diego were much closer.
    evilmonkey239 likes this.
  15. Emanuel Theodorus

    Emanuel Theodorus Well-Known Member

    20 Mar 2018
    Tangerang, Indonesia
    They kinda forget they don't always need clear crystal underwater viewing for these hippos. Just a good amount of land and water. These expensive water filters are usually what sets them back when they don't even need it, in my opinion.
    JVM, evilmonkey239 and Tapir Master like this.