I previously wrote about the Capital of Texas Zoo. Then shortly after the last time I was here I visited Austin's other two zoos (or zoo-like facilities), so I thought I'd do a comparison of all three. Capital of Texas Zoo I haven't visited this zoo since I last wrote about it, however I realized that my previous write-up was affected by the psychological bias known as anchoring. The last zoo I visited before this was the Lupa Zoo, another roadside zoo with often inadequate conditions but an impressive collection of animals. The zoo I visited before that was the San Diego Zoo, and so I was basically saying "sure, it's nothing like the San Diego Zoo, but it's not much worse than the Lupa Zoo." But considering that the Lupa Zoo also often has inadequate conditions, "not much worse than the Lupa Zoo" isn't really a justification. The Lupa Zoo at least feels a little bit like a proper zoo. The enclosures are often too small, but they're all clean and most animals have clear attempts at enrichment. At the Lupa Zoo every animal has a named sign, a few have explanatory signs, and you can get a map at the entrance. I feel like "menagerie" is a better term for the Capital of Texas Zoo than "zoo." As I said previously, there's no maps and the signage is often missing or wrong and almost always faded. Few animals had significant enrichment in their enclosures, the bats kept flying into the glass, and many of the reptile enclosures were filthy. The sun conure which was kept on its own in a too-small, round cage and the overcrowded coati enclosure still haunt me, and many a visitor has commented on the tiger enclosure. That said, The Capital of Texas Zoo does have a fairly impressive variety of animals for its size, which is no doubt because the guy running it is an importer who deals with—among other places—AZA zoos. And honestly, if someone were visiting Austin, I'd probably take them to the Capital of Texas Zoo before I took them to the Austin Zoo. The Capital of Texas Zoo has animals you'll have a hard time seeing elsewhere, the prairie dog exhibit is an experience, feeding animals is fun, and I find that the terribleness of the signage is more amusing than the animal enclosures are sad. But then, I'm also kind of a terrible and selfish person, and I've still decided that I'll never go back there on my own. Austin Zoo The Austin Zoo is basically the polar opposite of the Capital of Texas Zoo. The maps are good, the signage is AZA-quality, enclosures are huge, and enrichment abounds. I didn't notice any parrots with plucking problems, which is something even AZA zoos have difficulty with and which is all the more impressive considering that their parrots are nearly all large, temperatmental species people gave up. Where the Capitol of Texas Zoo is a breeding mill for many species, the Austin Zoo claims not to breed animals at all. Where the entire staff of the Capital of Texas Zoo seems to be one guy and his teenage daughter, the Austin Zoo has multiple zookeepers on staff at any time, to say nothing of volunteers. Yet with three exceptions—ringtails (which I didn't manage to see), caiques (which I've already seen in pet stores), and tame silver foxes (which I also didn't manage to see)—all of the animals are fairly commonplace. The mild yet persistent hypocrisy of the Austin Zoo mildly annoys me. The Austin Zoo got its start as a game ranch, and then at some point the owner apparently decided it was going to become an exotic animal sanctuary. (In this respect it's similar to Big Cat Rescue, though I'm happy to say that the Austin Zoo as an institution isn't as vocally anti-exotic-pet as BCR is, though some of the individual volunteers there are.) And while each animal that it accepted when it was an animal sanctuary has a sign detailing the individual animal's history, the left over game animals have no such sign (though they do have signs identifying them), though to its credit the employees are happy to tell you that that's where those animals come from. The tame silver foxes weren't actually a rescue but a confiscation, and I can't tell whether my annoyance at their signs was entirely due to my annoyance at Texas's odious policy when it comes to furbeaers (tigers, chimps, and boomslangs are all legal as pets here while ringtails, fennecs and tame silver foxes are not), or if it actually was a bit sanctimonious, since I didn't get such a feeling from most of their signs. And while they claim not to buy or breed animals (I asked why they weren't AZA-accredited since their facilities and staff both seemed to meet AZA standards, and was told it was because the AZA would require them to breed animals), they have crested porcupines which they purchased as "educational animals" and "accidentally" bred. Between the presence of the porcupines and a pair of Transvaal lions they were watching for (IIRC) the Tuscon Zoo, I started to wonder about their choices in the animals they "rescue" and ultimately asked a volunteer and an employee directly how they choose what animals to accept. I couldn't get a clear statement of policy on that matter, since decisions are made by a single employee who wasn't there at the time. However despite being nominally an animal sanctuary, I suspect that "drives visitors" is a bigger concern than "hard to rehome." For example: large macaws and cockatoos are hard to rehome with people who can properly care for them, and parrot rescues tend to have surplus, so it's not surprising that the Austin Zoo has a lot of both. Yet there's probably not a bird in existence which is easier to persuade an experienced parrot owner to take in than a caique, and the Austin Zoo has at least three. And the cynic in me wonders if they don't have parrots with plucking problems because they don't display them or don't accept them. The whole operation smells faintly of hypocrisy, and the large but mostly bare enclosures give it a slightly bleak feel, however it's still a beautiful facility to walk around. I spent I don't know how much time watching (and interacting with) the parrots, and I never understood why people liked big cats until I went to the Austin Zoo. Watching a cougar up close and personal there took my breath away. While I'd be more likely to take visitors to the Capital of Texas Zoo, there's no question that I'd be much more willing to go back to the Austin Zoo myself. Austin Nature and Science Center Of the three zoos/zoolike facilities in Austin, this is both the only one not called a zoo and the one which most fits with my conception of what a "proper" zoo is. Like most AZA zoos, it's a public affair in the middle of a public park. Its mission is clearly educational, and the signage and enclosures are both on par with some AZA zoos I've seen. (They're less generous in terms of space than the Austin Zoo, but the enrichment is generous and most enclosures are planted.) Like the Austin Zoo the staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I spent a long time watching the raven, and this was my first time seeing a gray fox (which I also spent a lot of time watching), a greater roadrunner (or either roadrunner, for that matter), and a crested caracara (I think it actually had two or three of them). It's small in scope, and focused on native animals, with the raven (an African subspecies) being the only animal not not native to Texas, and one of the few individuals not born here. Being in Zilker Park it's also the most accessible of the zoos if you live in central or east Austin. Plus admission is free. I've always been skeptical of the old saw that "the best things in life are free," but when it comes to Austin's three zoos I'd say that this applies. I'd be more likely to visit again myself or take visitors to the Nature and Science Center than to either of the zoos actually called zoos. I bought a membership to the San Antonio Zoo, however the ANSC is relatively uncrowded and has animals San Antonio doesn't. The only drawback (aside from its small size and scope) is that it's right by Mopac, and the constant sound of cars makes it a somewhat less-than-relaxing experience.