Toledo Zoo Review Visit- August 27, 2016 The Toledo Zoo put itself on the map when it opened the world-famous Hippoquarium in 1986, the first hippo exhibit with underwater viewing. The zoo quickly became well known and I believe Toledo is the smallest market to get over a million visitors at its zoo. Since Hippoquarium, the zoo has opened its share of multimillion complexes such as Arctic Encounter (2000), Africa (2004), Tembo Trail (2012) and the renovated Aquarium (2015). For a fairly small facility (51 acres), Toledo has a fairly comprehensive collection and quite a few exhibits. However, I would describe Toledo more as a solid zoo than a world-class one. Some of the exhibits are state-of-the-art but most fall somewhere between good and mediocre. There aren’t any cat grottoes, bear pits or all-indoor ape exhibits here but some popular animals (elephants, tigers, gorillas) are housed in enclosures that are less than flattering. Despite having mixed exhibit quality, this is a very popular zoo. I went on a rainy day and still there were quite a lot of people there. Overall it is a very good zoo and one to be proud of. The Best Hippoquarium- Like Woodland Park Zoo’s gorilla exhibit, this enclosure was completely groundbreaking at its time and yet it has remained one of the best for its species for decades. The hippos lumber in a spacious pool with relatively clear water and great viewing from the guests. The land area is average but relatively nice and a mini waterfall provides a nice backdrop. There’s a deck for keepers to use. A decent spotted necked otter exhibit with underwater viewing is next door. San Diego’s Hippo Beach in Ituri Forest is better but this is still one of the very best hippo exhibits around. Africa- Opened in 2004, terrific savanna that is home to giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, Watusi cattle, greater kudu, impala, ostrich and birds. The enormous exhibit is filled with varying levels of grass and dotted with termite mounds, trees and realistic rockwork. The two problems with the exhibit are it is hard to see the back without going on a train (a problem that would be solved by having a boardwalk go around the exhibit) and the giraffe holding area is subpar. However, it is still a top notch plains exhibit. A standard cheetah exhibit is next door and now the savanna can be viewed through a zipline. Gray Wolf- The wolves have a very nice, spacious exhibit with lots of grass and hiding spaces as well as a rocky area for them to climb on. Arctic Encounter- I would say this 2000 polar bear exhibit is comparable to Polar Plunge in San Diego in that it is decently sized, fairly immersive and has a great pool with underwater viewing but has a bit too much mock rock. I love Columbus and Detroit’s for giving their bears lots of grass and over an acre of space but this isn’t found here. However, it is definitely a top 10 polar bear exhibit in my book. I appreciate the amount of enrichments the bears have and the rocky areas where they can hide, sleep and climb. Next door is a solid harbor seal exhibit that looks as if it was connected to the polar bear exhibit. A very nice part of the zoo and one of its best exhibits. Aquarium- This renovation of an old building has turned the aquarium from an outdated facility to a state of the art one that’s one of the best in the country. The tanks are marvelous to look at and house a colorful array of fish. Rays and sharks can be found as well. Very impressive addition to the zoo. Penguin Beach- Opened in 2015, this rocky exhibit is quite nice and has a decent amount of land and water. Nothing earth-shattering but definitely good. Average Kingdom of the Apes- Opened in 1993, this area is dated and in the middle when ranking ape complexes at major zoos. The orangutan exhibit has tons of enrichments and climbing opportunities for the red apes although it is by no means naturalistic. The indoor rooms are all average at best and the gorillas have a grassy outdoor yard that is large enough but lacks any immersion or canopy and is short on enrichment opportunities. Could be worse but disappointing when there are so many brilliant ape exhibits around the country, especially for gorillas. Tembo Trail- This disappointing $15 million renovation opened in 2012, renovating the African Savanna section of the zoo. However, in reality an overhaul would have been more appropriate and worth the bang of the buck than this renovation. The elephant exhibit has an amazing pool, a few trees and some nice enrichments mainly hanging from tall shade structures but the exhibit is only about an acre large and is made up entirely of sand. The good news is the zoo can keep its elephants but with so many zoos going big with stunning new habitats for the pachyderms this is quite a letdown. The barn holds up much better and has a lot of space with soft flooring for the elephants. Naked mole rats live in tunnels inside the elephant house. The white rhinoceros exhibit next door is decent but smallish and unremarkable and can be viewed across a small river. It would be much better if it were larger and more naturalistic. Meerkats have a solid sandy mound exhibit. However, one of my biggest issues with this area is too many times it goes against its African theme and has animals such as Bactrian camels, yaks, grizzly bears and Tasmanian devils (my very first.) The devils have an all-indoor enclosure which is disappointing while the bear and camel exhibits are alright but nothing too special. This area has some merits but fundamentally flawed in more than one way. Primate Forest- A group of habitats that are not particularly naturalistic but make up for it in terms of enrichment, climbing opportunities and vertical space. Species include lemurs, swamp monkeys, langurs, colobus monkeys and gibbons. Oddly red pandas are found in this section as well. Cassowary Crossing- Typical cassowary exhibit. The Valley- A forgettable habitat for caribou. The Worst Tiger Terrace- While not terrible, tigers, snow leopards, sloth bears and maned wolves live in a group of habitats that are subpar and uninspired. All exhibit the maned wolf exhibit are viewed through mesh and lack the level of naturalism and immersion I expect from a zoo of this caliber. The snow leopard exhibit in particularly is much too small. The tiger and maned wolf exhbiits are the best of the bunch but still are nothing special and quite weak compared to others of their kind. Toledo is a hard zoo for me to judge since there are quite a few wonderful exhibits, many good to average ones and decent amount of mediocre ones. However, I’d guess it is probably somewhere between 20 and 35 when rating the nation’s zoos. I quite enjoyed my visit and can see why people like this zoo so much, even if there are quite a few parts I think are unspectacular at best and quite disappointing at worse. I’m excited to see what will happen when the master plan of this zoo comes through, which includes a River complex for hippos and grizzly bears, a new tiger exhibit and a prairie for bison, pronghorn and coyotes. This zoo definitely has the foundation and potential to be a world-class zoo and I’m glad it is so well supported by the Toledo community and seems to be prolific in creating new exhibits.