Lions, Tigers, Bears...Oh My!
The Toledo Zoo
Zoos have given millions of children the chance to see elephants, giraffes, bears, and other animals in person. But the most family-friendly ones aren't just about looking at wildlife and moving on. The latest trend: interactive features -- from puppet shows and plays to question-and-answer sessions with veterinarians to opportunities for feeding and petting animals -- aimed at providing children with a memorable experience.
To determine which zoos offer the widest array of animal species and hands-on activities for your whole clan, Child embarked on a five-month investigation of the more than 150 institutions belonging to the American Zoo & Aquarium Association, the first endeavor of its kind. Each member was sent a 64-question survey -- developed by our panel of experts. The categories included the number and quality of exhibits, presence of a children's zoo (a several-acre area designed just for kids), educational programs for school trips and summer vacation, staff-to-visitor ratios, animal care, family conveniences (such as many restrooms with diaper-changing tables), conservation efforts, security and safety measures, and more.
What we found was impressive. The majority of zoos find creative ways to involve children -- in fact, there was only a small margin separating the leader from the 10th-place finisher. Interestingly, too, the bigger zoos aren't necessarily the better ones. Most of our winning zoos are mid-size and make excellent use of their resources to intrigue children.
From a zoo where toddlers can take a stroller tour given by a naturalist to one that sought the yearlong counsel of more than a dozen kids in planning a new exhibit, the top 10 winners -- all of which have a lovely children's zoo -- are featured here.