Riverbanks Zoo Review Date of Visit: June 2010 The Riverbanks Zoo is on the 170 acre Riverbanks Zoo/botanical gardens property but the zoo is much smaller. It feels like 25 acres at most. The zoo has comprehensive collections of birds, reptiles, fish and Australian mammals but otherwise is quite limited. There are hardly any areas that can be called immersive exhibit complexes and most of the exhibits are of average quality with a few above and quite a few less. Hopefully things are better now that Destination Riverbanks has opened but when I went there was not a lot to put this zoo on the map. Excellent Destination Riverbanks- It opened 5-6 years after my visit but I have no doubt from the pictures this exhibit is the best part of the zoo. Sea Lion Landing looks like an excellent pinniped exhibit if not as impressive as Saint Louis or Fresno Chaffee, the grizzly bear exhibit seemed improved but nothing special and the otter exhibit looks nice. I’m not reviewing it but pointing out its existence to suggest this is probably the best part of the zoo. Birdhouse at Riverbanks- When I visited, this was the best exhibit at the zoo and is a nice aviary with a solid collection. Its exhibits are quite lush and generally quite well done. The stars are the king, rockhopper and Gentoo penguins, who live in a slightly above average rocky indoor exhibit. The mock rock is not great but the pool is quite nice and the viewing superb. Other species include Bali mynahs, African crowned cranes and a variety of tropical bids. A superb flamingo pool can be found outside. Aquarium Reptile Complex- A solid building with a good collection of fish and reptiles. A highlight is an excellent alligator snapping turtle with underwater viewing. A desert terrarium is quite long and well done. Komodo dragons live in a decent exhibit with plenty of enrichments and has a good amount of climbing and hiding opportunities. King cobras live in an excellent terrarium while sharks, eels and fish live in a large tank that’s quite good. Alligators and Galapagos tortoises live in stellar exhibits nearby. Average Ndoki Forest- The closest the zoo has to having a true immersion exhibit complex but of mixed quality. I had an incredible visitor moment in this section where the gorilla came right up to me behind the glass and looked me right in the eye. The gorilla exhibit is incredibly lush, fairly large and filled with vegetation, making it a solid habitat for the apes. The slight hill in the exhibit adds a nice touch as well. However, what it has in vegetation it loses in enrichment and scenic views. I would say this is definitely a good gorilla exhibit but by no means none of the best. Soon after comes my favorite exhibit in the complex: the meerkat habitat. This exhibit is what a meerkat exhibit should be: filled with places to dig, lots of vegetation and hiding opportunities, a good amount of space and a great view. The last of the three exhibits in the complex really ruins it and I would have rated this this complex excellent if not for it being there. It’s a subpar, fairly small African elephant exhibit. The exhibit is filled with clay and has decent mud backdrops- clearly modeled after Mzima Springs at Zoo Atlanta. However, it is much too small and lacks the level of immersion and enrichment necessary to be a good exhibit. Subpar in my book. Ndoki Forest is decently immersive and has two good habitats but is not large or impressive enough to be that memorable and the weak elephant exhibit takes it down a notch. Kangaroo Walkabout- A decent but average grassy walkthrough exhibit for kangaroos and wallabies. Koalas- Like the kangaroo exhibit, nothing special or any different than Australian exhibits at other zoos. This koala exhibit is particularly bare and only has a few branches for climbing. Riverbanks Farm- You average farm-in-a-zoo. African Plains- A giraffe yard is alright in terms of size but quite generic and dull. At least there are a few trees and it is quite shaded. Zebras and ostriches share a smaller yard that is quite barren. Poor Siamang Island- One of the weakest siamang islands I have seen. There are no ropes and not a ton of climbing/swinging opportunities. Conservation Outpost- The black footed cat exhibit in this building is one of the worst exhibits I’ve seen at a major zoo. It is loaded with mock rock, brutally space and all concrete. A tree kangaroo exhibit is not much better. A fishing cat enclosure is a concrete monstrosity that is quite dark and lacks enrichment. Red ruffed lemur and ring-tailed lemur exhibits are not impressive either. Grottoes- If you’ve read any of my reviews you probably know I despise grottoes. However, I can honestly say the ones at Riverbanks are some of the smallest and worst I’ve ever seen. A lion exhibit looks like a clearing in a cave and is brutal in terms of size and naturalism. A similar tiger exhibit is primarily mock rock with a little bit of natural substrate and possibly the worst tiger exhibit I’ve ever seen. A third similar grotto houses baboons. When I visited hyenas and grizzly bears were on exhibit as well in similar grottos but the grizzly bear one has been renovated and the hyenas have left the collection. I believe sea lions, hippos and warthogs were once in this region of the zoo as well. Additionally the grottos have brutally small and all concrete primate exhibits behind them for spider monkeys, howler monkeys and Diana monkeys. Yuck. Bring on the bulldozers. This section is a disgrace that can’t go soon enough. Besides my amazing encounter with the gorilla, my visit to the Riverbanks Zoo was largely pleasant but forgettable. There were some good exhibits and several average ones but none that were state-of-the-art or that impressive. Some sections of the zoo were quite weak and this felt magnified by the smallness of the facility. I would probably rank Riverbanks somewhere between 55 and 64 on rankings of America’s best zoos.