Fort Worth Zoo is located a few miles Southwest of downtown on a long flat site nestled against a steep forested hillside. Its largest collections are primarily African and North American animals, situated in a mix of exhibit complexes of geographic and zoological arrangements that are mostly newer or renovated. Most are outdoor exhibits, with the indoor ones mostly concentrated in a few buildings. It is a very pleasant place to visit and features the most distinctive reptile and amphibian complex I have seen as well as one of the most complete geographical exhibit complexes I have seen. The zoo layout is essentially a linear spine and easy to navigate, and its entrance is toward one end of the path. A parallel course ascends the foot of part of the hillside for some of the exhibits situated there. The entrance buildings include a few octagonal ones for services and a small central ticket booth and turnstiles, connected by a large rustic arbor; these and the footbridge over a stream that travels through the entire site are vaguely African in theme. Nearby are a pair of average attractive flamingo ponds. I will describe the zoo in arrangements of exhibit complexes rather than the order they are encountered because some areas are more coherent than others. The newest complex is called MOLA and is near the entrance; this acronym stands for Museum Of Living Art and is an esoteric name for what is an excellent reptile and amphibian house that also includes insects and a few birds and mammals as well. It is the largest of the indoor exhibit areas, although it also has 11 outdoor exhibits adjacent to the buildings. There are two buildings, both featuring a modern sophisticated arrangement of curving metal roofs with an abstract scale pattern. The larger building is also puntuated by a taller asymmetrical rotunda faced in light stone masonry that is also used for some exterior and interior walls and elements. The larger building houses the interior exhibits, while the smaller is Crocodile Café with a large dining room with a soaring curved ceiling that serves the three counter-service food facilities in its entrance. Crocodile Café has a window on one side for viewing the outdoor saltwater crocodile exhibit while a larger series of windows on another side provides great views into the outdoor gharial exhibit that is between the two buildings. The exhibit building is arranged in a linear fashion, intended to be experienced beginning with a courtyard outside. Adjoining the courtyard are two more viewing windows (one with underwater views) into the walled saltwater crocodile exhibit seen previously from the dining area; it is a nice yard with a pond of varying depth, although it appears to be small for the massive reptile. Nearby is another underwater viewing window for Gharial River, a large mixed-species exhibit with a generous pond and sandy bank for gharial, fly river turtle, painted terrapin, and Southeast Asian narrow-headed softshell turtle as well as fish such as barb, needlefish, giant pangasius catfish, danio, gourami, clown knifefish, and bala shark. It is an excellent exhibit and the complex’s biggest attraction. Across the courtyard is a large grassy yard for Aldabra tortoise in the shade of mature trees. The reptiles are contained by a perimeter of vertical metal poles about 2 feet high, spaced closely enough to prevent escape but far enough to enable viewing. This yard is also seen from the main path through the zoo, with the striking building for a backdrop. Adjacent are some other outdoor exhibits, but these are viewed more closely from a loop path reached halfway through the building exhibit path so I will describe them later. One more outdoor exhibit is seen before going inside: it is a viewing window into a small walled yard for crocodile monitor. It has a low rocky naturalistic backdrop which then reveals the building wall behind it to continue the necessary containment height; similar blends of realistic and architectural combinations are common to the outdoor exhibits. Pairs of cobra-shaped door handles lead into the building, and another glass viewing window looks into a separate indoor portion of the crocodile monitor exhibit before another large underwater viewing window of the outdoor gharial exhibit is seen. Signs throughout the complex are very complete and informational and are a mix of wall-mounted, backlit wall-mounted, and podium video monitors ( for larger mixed-species exhibits, some are interactive while others slowly change through a series of images). The seven exhibit rooms are different arrangements with several being similar to each other; all feature exhibits behind glass, with some being floor-to-ceiling larger exhibits interspersed with clusters of smaller wall exhibits. Most smaller ones are of average size and detail; the impressive factor comes from the excellent setting and collection. The first room is Diversity Gallery and is one of two that features a long complex 45-degree angled arrangement of exhibits in a dark environment, this one with a soft blue atmospheric glow toward the ceiling. The larger exhibits include one with large simulated buttress roots for Burmese python, one with underwater viewing for fly river turtle (one of two in the interior complex that has an open top), and one with bamboo clumps for king cobra. In addition this room has about 30 small exhibits for reptiles and amphibians. Next is Insect Gallery, a small curved alcove at the end of the previous room; it has about 12 small exhibits and represents about half of the zoos insect exhibits. Then one of the two rooms with a large mixed-species display on each side of an angled hallway is entered, with waist-high underwater views along their entire lengths. This is Flooded Forest, a nice exhibit of African animals on one side (West African dwarf crocodile featured) and South American on the other (mata mata, savanna side-necked turtle, caiman lizard, South American map frog, Amazon milky tree frog, and green basilisk with river stingray and fish such as hatchetfish, silver dollar, tetra, pacu, silver arowana, red-tailed catfish, and arapaima fish!) in aquatic environments covered by simulated masses of trunks and branches for the semi-aquatic animals. Discovery Hub is the middle room of the progression and occupies the tall interior of the stone-faced rotunda, skylit from above. It features three large educational graphics panels and a curved counter against one wall staffed for education. Behind the counter is a large window into the Nursery and Incubation Lab, but not being able to walk up to it makes it ineffective as a teaching tool. Far more interesting is the counter itself, topped with hardwood planks and 3 round windows into the aquatic habitat that composes its entire base. This habitat is also viewed from a seamless curved window that forms one side of the entire counter face. Inside is a wonderful Chinese giant salamander! The room also has a large window for viewing a small open outdoor scarlet ibis exhibit, and a door that leads to the short exterior loop path that also views it. The path views small outdoor yards for macaw, ring-tailed lemur, ducks, the previously mentioned Aldabra tortoise yard, and a wood-and-wire cage against a stone masonry wall for golden lion tamarin and Hoffmans two-toed sloth. Except for the tortoise, these are all too small and unimpressive, and the species do not especially illustrate animals that are living art any more than many others that might have been included. This is the complex’s downfall and their reason for being there is unclear. Such attractive real estate would have been much better served by another fantastic outdoor reptile exhibit, such as a sea turtle lagoon. Back inside, the next room is the Montane Gallery, with about 20 reptile and amphibian wall exhibits featuring animals from mountainous regions; one I especially noticed was for Iranian harlequin newt, beautiful black-and-white amphibians I do not remember seeing before. Next is the second room that features a large aquatic exhibit topped with dry branches on each side of a hallway: Tropical Trails. Species here include sailfin dragon, quince monitor, Annam leaf turtle, spotted pond turtle, Chinese three-striped box turtle, and fish such as Chinese algae eater, Asian bonytongue, Siamese flying fox, loach, and barb. It is another fine display. Adaptation Hall is the second of the two rooms with angular layout and exhibits, this time devoted to arid regions and lit with a soft orange atmospheric glow toward the ceiling. It is yet another extensive room with about 20 small wall exhibits and three larger ones for indigo snake and beaded lizard and others. At the end is the other open top exhibit in the interior complex, a rocky habitat for several lizard species called Desert Exhibit. This one is nice because anyone taller than the glass railing can get the only unobstructed view inside. The final indoor exhibit is a large window into a nicely detailed exhibit room with a small pond for Komodo dragon. This is the only interior exhibit with skylights, which would benefit some of the other larger exhibits too. This room is on the small side for these lizards, but an adjacent window views a nice larger outdoor yard for the same species with a nesting beach on the edge of a pond. After exiting the building, another large window views the same outdoor exhibit, and finally a small outdoor exhibit for the rare Cayman Island Blue Iguana attaches to the side of the building and is similar to the crocodile monitor exhibit at the entrance. All of this combines to form a slick memorable facility worthy of the collection. Reptile and amphibian fans will find MOLA worth the price of admission alone, and I can not think of a better presentation of these animals on this scale anywhere. Gharial River interior viewing window in MOLA: Texas Wild is the zoo’s largest geographic exhibit complex and is located at the far end of the main path. It is one of the most complete and informational complexes focused on a single region anywhere and its excellent extensive graphics could be combined to form a book about the state. Detail is everywhere and the facility is full of culturally themed architecture and artifacts. For those who dislike this kind of presentation, Texas Wild should be avoided because it is among the finest of its kind; similar complexes elsewhere include Tropics of the Americas at Palm Beach Zoo, Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Asia Quest at Columbus Zoo, Wild Arctic at SeaWorld San Diego or Orlando, and Range of the Jaguar at Jacksonville Zoo. Although it is full of detail, some of the larger animal exhibits are too small, particularly in one of the sub-regions where they are crammed together, and this prevents the complex from truly attaining best-of-the-best status. This is understandable since the inclusion of so many species is so ambitious: in the 6 sub-regions of the complex are about 60 live animal exhibits. The complex is intended to be experienced as a loop trail, but the beginning of it also serves as an extensive visitor services cluster; the intended loop can also be easily viewed backwards. Most of it is outdoors in a native plant forest, but there are also two theater presentations, a play area, and an exhibit building for one of the sub-regions that are in separate indoor areas. I will describe each sub-region in a paragraph of its own. Hill Country is the Texas Wild entry area and its smallest. An ironwork and stone archway with ornamental iron gates forms the entry, topped with a Texas-shaped sign. Just beyond is a farm windmill and a stone bridge over a shaded waterfall and stream, half of which is a small naturalistic habitat for Guadalupe map turtle and Guadalupe bass. Then a small hillside exhibit called Boot Hill is seen, recreating a small Old West cemetery with tomb markers and guarded by statues of black and turkey vultures; it is scenic but why such a morbid display was chosen for the entrance (and would have fit well later in the exhibit path) is unclear. Also, why not have an actual flight aviary for the real version of these birds? A dedication plaque with a few bronze statues provides the transition to the next area. Texas Town is a recreation of a small Old West settlement and is the most culturally themed area – and the only one that does not specifically recreate a region of the state. Instead, it is the visitor services cluster as well as the domestic animal hub. It begins with one of two stations for the miniature train ride that travels from the zoo entrance to here, called Yellow Rose Express. Its small outdoor depot is next to the track turnaround that surrounds a fenced yard for Texas longhorn and adjoins a fenced yard for American painted horse. Nearby is Country Carousel, and next to it is the Feed Store, one of many themed structures that form the town. This one is the barn for the small outdoor Petting Corral for domestics like goats, and next to it is the Down On The Farm Play Barn, a larger barn with farm-related interior play features. There is also a Blacksmith display in a nearby barn. Across the main street of the town are restrooms behind facades of a livery stable, barbershop, and jail. Next to this is a sweet shop called Toadally Texas Treats, and then the Ice Cream Parlor. An even larger nearby row of facades forms another building housing the General Store and Bluebonnet Café, a large counter-service food facility with themed stations and an indoor dining room dominated by an atmospheric blue ceiling and a stone fireplace with a Texas longhorn mounted trophy. The café also has a nice outdoor seating deck. Nearby, a prop stagecoach can be boarded for pictures, outside the scenic masonry and stucco building that forms the true beginning of the rest of the exhibits loop. This building is the Texas Hall of Wonders and acts as the orientation center: it is filled with exhibits about the state and can be considered its own small museum. A skylit formal hall is the foyer and features a large map of the state divided into the sub-regions that the rest of the exhibit complex will bring to life later. A few smaller rooms are filled with natural history displays before a pre-show waiting room is reached that looks like a formal living room. The show itself is called Wild Wild Weather Extravaganza and is a short automated presentation in a theater that appears to be on the edge of a farm at night. Visitors sit on benches and watch animated characters of a swift fox and bird introduce the wildlife of the state, some of which are moving statues that appear from behind the simulated prairie and tree that form the stage. A simulated storm follows with in-theater effects and illustrates the role of weather in the lives of animals. After the show, visitors exit into a large gallery of well-designed displays in an atmospheric setting about human stewardship and interaction with nature. These displays are very practical for local visitors and include topics including fishing and hunting and ranching and housekeeping and suggest practices that have more positive impacts on the land. Then the building is exited and the bulk of the live animal exhibits begin in the next region. If all of this sounds like a theme park, it is; and a very effective one that is appropriate and augments rather than upstages the exhibits to come. Admittedly, all these bells and whistles come at a price and it is fair to say that the money spent here could have been shifted to create even better animal exhibits. Bluebonnet Cafe and General Store in Texas Town in Texas Wild: High Plains and Prairies begins with Twister House, a viewing shelter that looks like a dilapidated small house hit by a tornado. Inside are large viewing windows into three small outdoor netted exhibits, each with its own small low nesting box with small windows into the burrows. The largest is the nice center exhibit for black-tailed prairie dog and burrowing owl, while the black-footed ferret exhibit is average and the swift fox exhibit is cramped. Around the corner is a large yard for white-tailed deer and wild turkey and sandhill crane that adjoins the smaller exhibits. It is viewed from a railing across a water-filled moat and is one of the few unobstructed views in the complex; some other exhibits seen later would benefit from a similar arrangement. The yard is shaded by trees and on a gentle slope, although the back fence is rather fence-y. Next to this is a bridge over the stream that runs through the property and is a great natural landscape; a flip-book of species identification signs here gives a taste of what wild animals might be spotted. Pineywoods and Swamps is set on the edge of a cypress swamp in a large long rustic viewing shelter and filled with three-dimensional educational displays. A large viewing window looks into the edge of a roomy forested yard for red wolf, its fence well-hidden by foliage. A large statue of an alligator is in front of a large exhibit seen from behind three angled windows with underwater views for American alligator, alligator snapping turtle, and sunfish. This fine exhibit has a rocky backdrop and overhangs with swampy plants. Next to it is a similar exhibit for North American river otter, backed by a small rustic cabin. Viewed from this shelter as well as a nearby one is the black bear exhibit, a rather plain flat yard on the small side that is backed by a rustic metal shed but has too much visible metal fencing. Its unique feature is a simulated log that bisects one of the large viewing windows: visitors can crawl into one end and the bear can crawl into the other, only separated by a few metal barriers inside. Entrance to viewing shelter for wolf, alligator, otter, and bear exhibits in Pineywoods and Swamps in Texas Wild: Texas Gulf Coast begins with a very themed seaside shack called Alexander’s Bait Shack. Inside is a small room filled with rustic nautical flotsam and jetsam and educational displays as well as average small aquariums for lined seahorse, pompano, redfish, and young Kemps Ridley sea turtle. There is also a staffed open-top shallow touch tank in a boat-shaped counter, and behind this are about 5 small aquariums for keeping the touch collection of horseshoe crabs and others. The exit leads to an outdoor wooden porch overlooking a scenic wharf and lagoon with a ruined shrimp boat. This is actually inside a medium-to-large flight aviary for brown and white pelican and roseate spoonbill, which can also be viewed from outside its exit. Brush Country has the largest collection of larger animal exhibits but is the one where the exhibits are crowded together and of mostly average quality and small size. It features several small stucco mission-style structures for restrooms and interior exhibits set between outdoor netted yards shaded by trees. These yards include adjoining exhibits for bald eagle, white-nosed coati, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, and jaguar. Between a few are two small interior exhibits viewed behind glass for ocelot and a mixed-species one of North American porcupine and ringtail; both are half-rocky, half-architectural rooms. Another building has three small rooms with minimal detail for turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, and Northern Aplomado falcon; these are too small but I believe they may be taken out for free-flight demonstrations in a small clearing with perches nearby. Finally, there is a very small walk-through aviary in a netted enclosure for scaled quail, Inca dove, green jay, bobwhite, roadrunner, white-winged dove, and Texas tortoise. This exhibit could easily have been only viewed from the outside, but it is nice that it was transformed into a closer experience. The last region is Mountains and Desert, beginning with a rocky passageway with desert bighorn statues above visitors and a ruined mining car labeled as the Lone Star Mining Company at the entrance to what is the zoo’s second concentrated indoor exhibit space of reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. These displays are set in a series of small dark passageways that simulate mining tunnels and caves, and it is a fine immersive building. There are a few mammal exhibits as well: a cave behind glass for long-nosed and pallid bats, and a crawl-through exhibit for Merriams kangaroo rat. Reptile exhibits include Western diamondback rattlesnake, Texas horned lizard, broad-banded copperhead, indigo snake, and a few others. Amphibians are represented by a nice aquatic display for Rio Grande cooter and another for black-spotted newt; between these is an aquarium for Pecos pupfish. Insects are largest portion of exhibits, with fine featured displays for leafcutter ant, red harvester ant, dung beetle, and carrion beetle. Other insects and invertebrates are featured in a wall of about 12 small exhibits called Insect City near a wall of informational graphics about bugs and butterflies. This leads to the final attraction, an indoor theater called Lone Star Mining Company Movie House with tiered bench seating and a scenic dark barn stage set with a screen that plays a looping film called Texas Finale Movie and summarizes the wildlife of the state. After exiting back outside, a wishing well is passed and the loop path rejoins the Texas Town area. Texas Wild is certainly a complete look at the area and with some more impressive animal enclosures could stand on its own as an interpretive facility anywhere else in the state. Back near the zoo entrance, the first complex encountered is World of Primates (mostly apes), a photogenic one of rocky outdoor grottos punctuated with timber climbing structures and waterfalls and moats for gorilla, chimpanzee, white-cheeked gibbon, mandrill, and orangutan. These surround a large interior building with a massive octagonal steel-truss skylight dome; inside is another gorilla exhibit dominated by a massive simulated tree trunk in the middle with twisting exposed roots. This habitat and the visitor path inside also feature rocky walls and numerous planting areas tucked in the rockwork so that it appears rather lush, with waterfalls. Cave windows look into one part of the interior gorilla exhibit as well as bedrooms for the exterior gorilla exhibit and the chimpanzee and orangutan, and an interior-only colobus exhibit. The chimpanzee exhibit also has an exterior sign for bonobo; weather they rotate in this one or the bonobo sign is simply outdated (they certainly used to have all four great apes here) is unclear, but their website does not mention them now. Both the interior and exterior paths around the exhibit feature nice multiple viewing areas, some in shelters. It is an attractive complex but the enclosures themselves are slightly small and average. Interior gorilla exhibit in World of Primates: Around World of Primates is a varied area of African exhibits. Some are seen from the boardwalk path that surrounds the apes: average fenced yards for bongo, cheetah, warthog, and black rhino (three yards). They are all pleasant enclosures punctuated by trees, with the cheetah being the best. A nice small yard for meerkat with glass railing viewing also adjoins the ape complex. African Savannah is a named area nearby that includes another view of the rhinos as well as a large fenced yard fronted by a water moat for reticulated giraffe, ostrich, and whooper swan. Also here is a poor plain exhibit for hippopotamus. Nearby are two older large open yards, partially moated and partially fenced, one for Grants zebra and warthog, the other for lesser kudu and gerenuk and Southern ground hornbill. They are nice and can be viewed from either side; behind these are two old stone masonry grottos up against the hillside for lion that are scenic but small and boring. Next to these is a nice hillside exhibit puntuated by boulders for Nubian ibex. Asian Falls is another geographic complex, more concentrated than the African parts, that begins with an average open yard for Asian elephant. An elevated boardwalk climbs past this up the hillside, and views two Indian rhinoceros yards that are reasonably surrounded by lush plantings and have rocky wallowing pools. A nice lush yard with a stream for Reeves muntjac is followed by an average wood-and-wire cluster of 3 cages for lesser bird of paradise. Then two shady tiger exhibits separated by a deep waterfall chasm and nestled against the hillside are seen, one for white Bengal tiger and the other for Malayan. They are viewed from a deck, most of which is enclosed with an annoying metal bar barrier, although a gap above the waterfall chasm provides better views of these small but decent exhibits. Finally, the same deck views a similar Malayan sun bear exhibit which has a large rocky pond at eye level and a much lower chasm that the bear was exploring. Malayan sun bear exhibit in Asian Falls: The rest of the zoo is grouped together in the middle of the property and is pleasant but unimpressive; bird displays dominate here but it is not the extensive collection of its neighbors to the South in San Antonio and Houston. Penguins is a small average interior display for African penguin. Raptor Canyon is a complex of wood-and-wire tall enclosures for African crowned eagle, Andean condor, King vulture, harpy eagle, bataleur eagle, and milky eagle owl. Parrot Paradise is a walk-through cage for feeding parakeets. About 15 other small bird exhibits are nearby, as well as another flamingo pond and waterfowl lagoon. Australian Outback is a large yard seen by a raised deck for red kangaroo. Adjoining is a small building with 3 average medium-sized aquariums called Great Barrier Reef. Great Barrier Reef aquariums in Australian Outback: I rank Fort Worth Zoo at number 23 in the 50 zoos I have visited, with Texas Wild at number 28 and MOLA at number 35 of my top 50 themed exhibit complexes. For individual exhibits, Gharial River in MOLA is number 8 and the American alligator and alligator snapping turtle and sunfish exhibit is number 14 in my top 15 reptile category. The zoo is underpriced by a dollar or two, general adult admission is $12. If in the area, it is easy to recommend a visit here, combined with Dallas Zoo and Dallas World Aquarium just 30 miles away! I have posted additional pictures in the gallery.