Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin is a fairly major and comprehensive facility located 7 miles West of downtown in a roomy and mostly flat wooded site surrounded by major roads and development. It was planned in the 1950s and mostly built in the early 1960s. Over 40 years of additions and renovations have done little to change the basic layout and feeling, so it remains a sort of time capsule and textbook example of cutting-edge zoo design of the period. This is not to say it has been neglected, just that it contains few exhibits that can be pointed out as best-of-their-kind today. Part of its strength is that the facility was created almost entirely at one time, and remains a cohesive whole rather than a piecemeal kit-of-parts. In fact, consistency is a hallmark of this zoo in many ways. Visitor services and animal exhibit buildings are typically low and nondescript, many faced with a combination of modern concrete frames infilled with random fieldstone from the period; interiors are mostly simple and generic as well. Outdoor exhibits are mostly for large mammals and feature clear views across dry moats with habitats frequently arranged in close geographic predator-and-prey relationships. These outdoor exhibits are enclosed in a sea of stylized simulated rockwork outcrops and walls; the amount of concrete used to make all of this consistent and loosely angular containment is staggering, and it is used in the same way regardless of the geographic habitats represented. Even the graphics are nearly identical across most of the zoo (they are certainly fresher than the original ones used), with large signs that clearly convey some focused facts and photos of the animals shown; unfortunately, most begin with “I am a (common name of species)” or “I spy a (common name of species)” which is slightly annoying. The layout of the zoo is in clusters located on curving paths, a freeform but not chaotic arrangement; this is in contrast to the rather grand radial formal arrangement of its parking lot. A unique aspect of the entry experience is that admission is collected for the zoo at the parking lot entry booths or a pedestrian entry gate to the parking lot rather than the entry building itself. That building consists of an entry atrium, administration, membership, two gift shops, and Flamingo Café, set in several low connecting rectilinear buildings that form one of the most forgettable entries to any major zoo I have seen, despite the atrium that connects them being only a few years old. The plaza just outside this is also nondescript, with an average Humboldt penguin semi-round outdoor exhibit with clear railings for underwater viewing as its centerpiece. A carousel and train station are located on one side; Safari Train does not feature close views of animal exhibits, but it has a nice long layout circling much of the property with a curving course through shady woods. I will describe the rest of the zoo in sequence as it is toured in a general clockwise direction. Family Farm is a large complex surrounding a small wooded hill, made up of typical red barn structures. These features are located a little too far from one another across paved areas that are larger than need be. The main entry is through a barn arch, leading to a public affairs office in another building, and a small outdoor birds-of-prey show theater. A nearby barn houses Animal Encounter, which is surrounded by small wire outdoor cages for the birds of prey and a few other animal ambassadors including a porcupine. A rather empty expanse nearby has a small apiary exhibit kiosk, while the Dairy Complex nearby is the main attraction. It is centered on a restored historic octagonal barn with a few exhibits and a viewing window into a milking demonstration area; nearby are stalls for the dairy cows, and a dairy store that features a few food products made from this working farm. A separate barn for horses and burros is also nearby, as well as a goat yard for contact and a playground. For what it is, this is a nice though minimally-detailed domestics complex. One of the two major clusters of large mammal outdoor exhibits is next: it is a concentrated area of adjoining yards and interior holding areas that has no official public name, but I will call it Africa/Asia/South America. It is not a themed exhibit complex, although part of it is for interior views of the large cat bedrooms and is called Big Cat Country. Nearly all the exhibits of this massive cluster feature the unobstructed views across moats and rocky containment described earlier; the exhibit sizes are generally average but open-feeling, dotted with mature trees. Only one exhibit is divided from the others by walkways: it is for reticulated giraffe, with a 1960’s angled barn with indoor viewing backed by a rocky yard with a water moat, and a side area with a feeding deck and steelpole-and-cable fencing that is a more recent renovation. The rest of the cluster is a loose U-shaped arrangement, with the giraffe exhibit at the entrance of its open mouth. The outside of the U-shape features the naturalistic views across moats, many with predator grottos behind them; the inside of the U-shape features holding area views behind glass for some of the exhibits and an interior viewing building for the cat bedrooms, as well as a few more outdoor viewing windows for the predator exhibits and two more outdoor exhibits that are more recent additions. I will describe the outside loop around the U-shaped cluster first, from the giraffe exhibit: its first exhibits continue the African geographic focus. First is a yard for African elephant, small for the present but nice for its day, currently occupied by two mature females. It is mostly earth substrate, as are all the exhibits in this cluster. A more recent prop inside is a simulated baobab tree trunk; most of the exhibits do not have props. Next is a yard for warthog; it has a wood fence dividing its full width which appears to create a separate back yard. If the elephant exhibit were temporarily renovated to provide more space, taking over at least this exhibit would be the logical step. If it went even further, it could also take over the hippopotamus exhibit, which is a rectangular one with more land area than the simple water moat pool that fronts the width of its average surface-viewing area. Next is a nice exhibit for bongo, with a shallow shelf-like pond. Impala Country is the name for the next hoofstock exhibit, a large sloping yard for impala, Thomsons gazelle, African spurred tortoise, and a nice assortment of birds: Ruppells griffon vulture, cinereous vulture, white stork, vulturine guineafowl, and African ground hornbill. Behind this is the first of the predator-and-prey exhibit relationships seen: seemingly open to the impala exhibit is a cheetah exhibit, elevated several feet above the level of the hoofstock in front. Of course, unseen from this framed view is a moat system that actually separates them; closer views of the cheetah exhibit will be seen later. Another hoofstock yard is called African Waterhole, and contains Damara zebra, eland, greater kudu, waterbuck, ostrich, and marabou stork. Again, it is backed by a predator exhibit, this time for African lion or spotted hyena, which I assume are rotated. A path branches off the main loop for a closer window view of the lion or hyena exhibit. South America is represented by two exhibits. The front one is for alpaca, Bairds tapir, king vulture, and red-footed and yellow-footed tortoises. Behind them is a jaguar exhibit with poor climbing opportunities and a branching path for a closer window view. Asia begins with a roomy yard for Bactrian camel; behind them are two predator exhibits, one for Amur tiger in the back of most of their yard, while a smaller section is exposed to a too-small grotto for Asiatic black bear. It is a shame that this increasingly rare-in-U.S.-zoos species gets a poor habitat; at least they get to salivate over the adjoining narrow Malayan tapir yard as well as the camels, if indeed they care. The final exhibits on this outside loop are two average-sized yards for black rhinoceros that end the geographic journey back in Africa and the giraffe exhibit. The inside of the U-shaped cluster where it opens to the giraffe exhibit begins with a symmetrical arrangement of two long low building shelters with large windows for interior holding area views: one side for the African elephants and hippopotamuses, and the other for the black rhinoceroses and Malayan tapirs. Both sides have dismal bedrooms. Beyond these are two close window viewing areas set in the rocky back walls of the Asiatic black bear and Amur tiger exhibits. Then two much newer exhibits are seen that feature simulated rockwork that is far more realistic than the 1960’s version that dominates the rest. One is for red panda and is a nice habitat of varied terrain and deadfalls for climbing, viewed through a high glass railing. The other is a nice rocky snow leopard exhibit topped with a steelpole-and-netted enclosure and viewed from a long window within a shelter. The placement of these two exhibits near the older viewing windows into the Asian predator exhibits is a good fit. Finally, a door leads into Big Cat Country, the name of the interior viewing area for the interior bedrooms of the large cats seen previously. This area has been renovated extensively, and each bedroom is a themed environment with murals and some three-dimensional detail. The bedrooms for Amur tiger and African lion or spotted hyena are the larger and skylit ones, while those for jaguar and cheetah are too small and artificially lit. One additional window in this interior looks out into the exterior cheetah exhibit, completing the closer viewing opportunities of each of the outdoor predator habitats. While they are certainly grotto-like, these predator exhibits have the benefit of not being surrounded on their open side by a walkway full of people staring into them; instead, there is a large expanse of adjoining exhibit space located there. Next to one side of the Africa/Asia/South America cluster is a short chairlift ride circuit with an out-and-back linear course and elevated views. It is a rather junky eyesore that should be removed. Bactrian Camel Exhibit with Amur Tiger Exhibit in the background: Animals of Australia is a small average complex consisting of a very roomy grassy yard with trees for red kangaroo and emu, contained by a low concrete retaining wall and viewed from the edge around nearly its entire perimeter. A long low building that adjoins it can be entered for bedroom views: the red kangaroo one is rather large, while the emu are separated into two smaller ones that also contain branches for Matschies tree kangaroo. A third exhibit for the tree kangaroo is also inside, as are 3 very small Great Barrier Reef wall aquariums. The second major cluster of outdoor large mammal exhibits is more spread out than the first one, grouped in 3 subclusters and entirely focused on North American animals. In style, it is very similar to the first cluster with unobstructed moat viewing and stylized simulated rockwork and predator-and-prey relationships. The exception is Wolf Woods from the 1980s, a nice roomy and woodsy fenced enclosure viewed from behind glass in a small log cabin building. The older exhibits begin with a small grotto that is currently empty; it was probably for a small predator since its size would never have held a bear at this zoo. Next to it is a bear exhibit, for brown bear. Like all 4 bear exhibits in this cluster, it has no natural substrate and its pool is small and appears shallow. The rest of it is an average small size, but avoids being a complete grotto by having an open side that views the prey exhibit that is adjacent. That exhibit is for moose and mule deer and wild turkey, and it is a nice large yard with a pond and stream and a rustic barn in the back. Across the path from this is a rocky mountain for Dalls sheep that is a lighter color than most of the rockwork at the zoo in a weak nod to their often-snowy natural habitat. Also of a lighter color are the two adjoining exhibits further down the path for harbor seal and polar bear, both with underwater viewing windows for their clear pools. These are not fantastic exhibits for either, but certainly a scenic panorama together, with one vantage point providing the impression that the bears could climb up and over some rocks to swat the seals. Next is a small low grotto yard for American badger next to a black bear exhibit next to a small rocky alcove for black-tailed prairie dog with a mound for digging tunnels. The black bear exhibit is similar to the brown bear exhibit, although it did not look like these bears could actually view the smaller mammals on each side. Next is a roomy yard for elk or red deer, with two rustic barns in back and dominated by the thick woods behind it. The sign differentiated them as two species but did not mention if they were displayed together; I assume they are rotated. One side of their yard adjoins the grizzly bear exhibit, another rocky one similar to the others. They are the lucky ones if proximity to prey exhibits is important, since the other side of their habitat adjoins another roomy yard with a rustic barn for caribou that completes this cluster. Most of these exhibits face a large lake called Lake Evinrude, and Lakeview Place is a nearby café with additional outdoor dining on a terrace at the shore. Moose, Mule Deer, and Wild Turkey Exhibit with Brown Bear Exhibit in the background: Two different paths through the woods travel from here to the weaker North half of the zoo which is dominated by interior animal exhibits in buildings separated by interludes of more woods. The first of these is the Small Mammals Building, housed in a low flat-roofed 1960s edifice composed of two exhibit rooms. Unfortunately, the nice collection of animals inside is showcased in small rectangular displays behind glass with minimal naturalism. It is a below-average complex. The first room has natural lighting and is presumably the section for animals that are active during the day. The largest exhibit is for North American river otter, inside a glass room with underwater viewing on 3 sides. It is on the interior side of the room, while most of the others are on the exterior side and at least have windows looking out into the woods on the opposite sides from the viewing windows. In order around the room, they contain: Goeldis monkey (two adjacent exhibits), red-ruffed lemur, ring-tailed lemur, tayra, two-toed sloth mixed with golden lion tamarin and Goeldis monkey, cottontop tamarin, golden lion tamarin, dwarf mongoose, two that were temporarily closed off, and golden-headed lion tamarin. There is a small outdoor caged yard for the monkeys to rotate through but no outdoor viewing of it for visitors. I was delighted to see the tayra, a species I have never seen before and is only exhibited in 5 U.S. zoos according to ISIS. It is a Central and South American member of the weasel family, larger than most of its relatives with a long slightly bushy tail. It was very active, bouncing around its small room filled with an assortment of toys and enrichment. The second room is Animals of the Night, a dark nocturnal area with exhibit sizes similar to the others. It features: straw-colored fruit bat (apparently they have about 150 in their collection, but not all on display here), vampire bat, black-footed cat, douroucouli, Senegal bush baby mixed with springhaas (again, only 5 U.S. zoos have any kind of bushbaby) in two adjoining exhibits open to each other, Southern three-banded armadillo, more bats (a rehabilitation area for sick individuals), kinkajou, sugar glider, and fennec fox. This is not the facility this collection deserves! Animals of the Night Room in Small Mammals Building: Aquatic and Reptile Center is another low flat-roofed rectangular building, this time for fish, amphibians, and reptiles shown in exhibits of various sizes behind glass on the outer perimeter of a single large dark room. I do not consider it an aquarium; it is several tanks short of earning that description, but it does have a few nice tanks that are scattered between the reptile exhibits. Larger tanks include a rectangular one in the center of the room for native fish called Lake Wisconsin; it is never viewed in its entirety because it is surrounded by walls with frequent smaller windows inserted. It can be completely circled and each window gives a rather mysterious view into the darkly lit and rocky interior. It is filled with a rather staggering 31 species! A wide display of African lake cichlids is also featured, next to a small tank for piranha, next to one of the better Amazon flooded forest large tanks I have seen. It is dark and contains some massive trunks as well as tangles of branches, and is occupied by all the usual species as well as giant South American river turtle. Another small tank with some dry areas is themed to mangroves and has archerfish and mudskipper. A Pacific Coast tank is large and has some large leopard shark but is otherwise rather sparse and a poor recreation. Amphibians are represented by 5 small terrariums clustered together. The remainder of the room is for reptiles, with about 20 exhibits that are slightly above-average in size and detail; the larger ones are for Chinese alligator mixed with red-eared slider, green anaconda mixed with green crested basilisk, and Grand Cayman blue iguana. Reptile Exhibits in Aquatic and Reptile Center: The next area consists of a small educational building for temporary exhibits that is currently vacant, an ugly sea lion show outdoor theater with riser-stand seating, a former small penguin grotto that now houses crested screamer, and a Japanese macaque exhibit that consists of an island with a water moat that can be circled. In the center of the relatively large island is a tall rocky outcrop in the zoo’s signature 1960s style. These monkeys are lucky compared to the prisons of their relatives in the Primates of the World and Apes of Africa buildings nearby. The primates building is from the original period, while the apes building and event center that directly connects to it are from the 1990s. This complex is the lowpoint of the zoo for me. The primates building has interior exhibits behind glass for mandrill, Goeldis monkey, black-handed spider monkey, two for orangutan, Eastern black-and-white colobus monkey, Diana monkey, and siamang. All are too small with the exception of the Goeldis monkey, whose exhibit is a palace compared to the same species exhibits in the Small Mammals Building and is rather lush. The spider monkey, orangutan, and siamang exhibits all have outdoor access to small wire-enclosed yards which are substandard; in fact, I think the siamang exhibit is the worst I have seen for that species. Detailing is either nonexistent or rather minimal in these habitats. The apes building is not much better, although the indoor viewing areas and exhibits themselves strive for more naturalism with large simulated tree trunks and live plants just out of reach in skylit atriums. I did not see an outdoor area for the bonobo exhibit; if this zoo truly has one of the largest groups of bonobos, where do they keep them all? There is only one exhibit to view here. For the other one for gorilla, there is a separate sparse outdoor yard on the other side of the building from their indoor exhibit. Skip it. Japanese Macaque Exhibit: The Aviary is yet another 1960s building, fronted by a waterway for waterfowl and a grassy side area for flamingo that provides them with a large area to wander. Inside the building is an exhibit path of 16 exhibits, most of them nice small detailed enclosures behind piano wire with natural lighting from far above. The first one is behind glass in a themed South American room and contains Sora rail, crimson-backed tanager, blue gray tanager, and red-legged honeycreeper. The next room is rather odd; it contains a decent Antarctic penguin exhibit behind glass with underwater viewing for gentoo and rockhopper penguin, but its viewing room ceiling is entirely draped with nets that contain life vests! I never found out what the point of it was, but one of the walls features a great large graphic of where the various species of penguins live. Next is a large skylit walk-through aviary room with lush plants, rocky cliffs, and a waterway. It contains a motley crew including boat-billed heron, crimson-backed tanager, blue-crowned motmot, Inca tern, Waldrapp ibis, ring teal, white bellied stork, Sora rail, African spoonbill, white-throated laughing thrush, and hooded merganser. Tropical Rain Forest is a room of 8 small exhibits, viewed from within a wooden sheltered walkway. The exhibits are: one for tawny frogmouth, Nicobar pigeon, Victoria crowned pigeon, laughing kookaburra, and Madagascar teal; one for green-naped pheasant pigeon, fairy bluebird, white-faced whistling duck, and golden-backed woodpecker; one for Bali mynah and Laysan teal; one for violet plantain-eater, white-headed buffalo weaver, speckled mousebird, golden breasted starling, and Madagascar teal; one for green-naped pheasant pigeon and plush-crested jay; one for blue-bellied roller, marbled teal, and cape thick-knee; one for Madagascar teal, green aracari, and wattled curassow; and one for turquoise tanager, blue gray tanager, and sunbittern. Bird fans will probably note that most of these combinations are geographically incorrect, which is the challenge for a collection that is medium-sized in a limited amount of exhibit space. The next room is African Savanna and consists of two small exhibits: one for bearded barbet and blacksmith plover, the other for Egyptian plover, red-bellied hornbill, and golden breasted starling. A weakly themed small open shorebird exhibit viewed on a boardwalk is next, with blacksmith plover, American oystercatcher, and black-necked stilt. Finally, a room with a small lush exhibit on each side is entered, one for Guam rail and one for Guam kingfisher. After exiting, there is another building before reaching the entrance of the zoo where this tour started; that building is the Animal Health Center and I ran out of time to see it. I understand it has displays on vet care and windows to observe any activities inside. Gentoo and Rockhopper Penguins Exhibit in Aviary: Although none of its exhibits come close to making my top lists, this zoo is a pleasant experience as a whole and its cohesive feeling helps it rise above some of the antiquated individual exhibits. I tend to like cohesion over chaos, so I rank it a few notches above some other zoos with some better exhibits but spottier layouts and collections. It is number 31 out of the 55 zoos I have visited. Adult general admission is $13.25 in peak season or $11.75 in off season; both are priced right. I have posted additional pictures in the gallery.