Zoos are the windows to the cute, the cuddly and sometimes the scary.
Most zoos sport much of the same. Lions, tigers and bears… Oh gee. So we’re skipping the greatest zoos and going for the quirky ones. They’re the parks that dedicate their sanctuary to specific animals, share unique habitats and go above and beyond the usual. We’ve even thrown in a gay penguin couple for good measure.
Cue that soppy face…
Darjeeling Zoo, India
Darjeeling Zoo, officially known as Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, is the largest high altitude zoo in India. It is also internationally recognised for its conservation breeding programmes of Red Pandas, Snow Leopards, Tibetan Wolves and other highly endangered species of Eastern Himalaya. As well as conserving the ecological balance of Eastern Himalaya, they also provide educational awareness of preserving the surrounding ecosystem.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Australia
Welcome to the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. Located in Queensland, the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary opened in 1927 during a time when koalas were being culled for their fur. Since then, it has grown into a wildlife park that continues to rehabilitate sick and injured koalas. It is here where you can meet a koala in person, hand-feed kangaroos and engage with a large variety of Australian wildlife in a remarkable outdoor setting.
Butterfly World, USA
There are well over 30 butterfly gardens that span the US, but the largest of them all is Butterfly World. It is a tourist attraction, research facility and butterfly farm all rolled into one. Take a self-guided tour of the zoo, surrounding yourself with over 5000 fluttering creatures and plenty of flora to put a sparkle in your eye. As you wander the grounds and read up on all the goings-on, be sure to learn about how to cultivate your own butterfly garden at home.
International Centre for Birds of Prey, UK
There are a handful of “birds of prey” sanctuaries around the world, but our favourite is the International Centre for Birds of Prey. As well as offering 12 hectares of enclosures, parklands and habitats to explore, these guys also showcase their greatest birds in regular shows throughout the day. The team take great care of their birds, rotating them around enclosures and habitats so they’re not constantly in the spotlight. That’s 250 birds, mind you.
Zoo Berlin, Germany
Gay penguins have been a highlight over the past two decades, starting with the glorious couple in Central Park Zoo. Since then, England and Australia have gotten in on the fad, and now it’s Germany’s turn! Meet Skipper and Ping, the gay penguin couple seeking to hatch their first baby. As well as the cute gay penguin couple, Zoo Berlin shares the world’s most comprehensive assortment of animals in a 35-hectare park. No time to waste, there’s lots to see!
Polar Park, Norway
Welcome to the northernmost zoo in the world. Polar Park in Norway may look chilly, but their intimate and unique animal selection is steaming hot. They also house bears, lynxes, moose, wolves, muskox, wolverines and even reindeer. While you can enter the park and walk around on your own accord, we recommend taking a step further and booking yourself a winter tour with transport provided. Get up close and personal with some furry creatures.
Sea Lion Caves, USA
The Sea Lion Caves is a privately-owned wildlife park in Oregon, USA and shares spectacular sights of hundreds of sea lions in their natural habitat. The caves are a natural landmark, of course, and are the winter home to California Sea Lions as well as a small array of bird species. The adjacent roaring sea is also part of the action, where during certain times of the year you can witness migrating orcas and Gray Whales just off the coast. Simply majestic!
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, Israel
Israel is by far one of the most religious capitals in the world, so it’s no surprise they’ve got a zoo dedicated to the Bible. Welcome to The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, officially known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, which houses all the animals you can find in the Bible. From black-tailed prairie dogs to Syrian brown bears, it’s all housed here. On top of this are their permanent exhibits, including Noah’s Ark and an Australian yard.
Taronga Zoo, Australia
Taronga Zoo is a conservation and research facility which showcases an eclectic mix of animals housed on the slopes of Bradleys Head in Sydney. But the greatest attraction of this zoo is its sprawling view of Sydney Harbour. To get the best views, we recommend taking a gondola from the ferry wharf to the top of the hill, where you can bear witness to the animals below and the view of Sydney in the background. Oh yes, you can also get a ferry to this zoo!
Flamingo Land, UK
This park brings back memories of Sydney’s Wonderland, which was once also a theme park and zoo all rolled into one. Welcome to Flamingo Land, a resort in England that houses the greatest thrills and the cutest shrills. And yes, that includes flamingos. From monkeys to giraffes and even a Burmese python. And then, once you’ve overloaded on cuteness, let it all out by taking a ride on some of the best thrill rides in England. Like Kumali, which is pictured.
Feature image: Andreas Ploner / Shutterstock. Image credits in order of appearance: Chinola / Shutterstock; jeep2499 / Shutterstock; Connor Strzelewicz / Shutterstock; bearacreative / Shutterstock; Ondrej Prosicky / Shutterstock; HunsaBKK / Shutterstock; Frank Fichtmueller/ Shutterstock; Igor Feldman / Shutterstock; FiledIMAGE / Shutterstock; Jeremy Thompson / Flickr