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Battle of the Zoos: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Battle of the Zoos: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium | Jest Kept Secret

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I have always been a fan of zoos. I know they have a lot of opponents who feel that zoos are an unnecessary form of animal captivity, but the fact is that good zoos provide sanctuary and conservation for many species that struggle to survive in the wild. The earth is currently experiencing the worst “mass extinction event” in 65 million years, with significant percentages of every class of animal threatened with extinction in the near future.[1] Good zoos help curb that loss through conservation breeding programs, some of which are so successful that they’ve not only prevented extinction, but bumped a species right back up to the level of Least Concern.[2] They also provide educational opportunities for people (especially children) who might never get to see these animals otherwise. Meaningful exposure to these animals can encourage the development of lifestyles and attitudes that lead to better conservation efforts around the world.[3] Promotional image for a review of the book We Bought a Zoo on Jest Kept Secret I have recently(ish) had the occasion to visit a lot of zoos and zoo-type places. In a span of 4 months, I visited 4 different zoos. Each had their advantages and disadvantages, and it was hard not to compare them in my mind. So over the next few weeks, I’m going to share them all with you in the first ever JKS Battle of the Zoos. We’ll compare how the zoos rate in the following categories:
  • Variety of animals
  • Enclosures and living conditions
  • Conservation efforts
  • Educational value
  • Accessibility
First up: The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Variety of Animals

Over 7,000 animals of 800 different species call the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium their home.[4] Animals are divided into areas representing continents and major habitat areas, and although I’ve visited my fair share of zoos, they had many species that I’ve never seen anywhere else, like the manatee in the aquarium. They also have a staggering number of birds, and their colorful aviaries were a highlight of my visit.

Enclosures and Living Conditions

The Columbus Zoo sits on over 400 acres, and they’ve made good use of the space. All the animals I saw had large enclosures, with plenty of room to move and a variety of enrichment features to encourage natural behavior. The Heart of Africa exhibit includes the best zoo enclosure I have ever seen. Several species of animals (ostrich, wildebeest, zebra, antelope, guinea fowl, grey-crowned cranes, and others) share a large enclosure that covers probably 10-15 acres. Large observations decks allow you to see the enclosure from many different angles and evokes the feeling of being on a safari, with animals roaming freely across the savanna. I did have some misgivings about the polar bear exhibit, which felt a little too green for these arctic animals. But while doing some research after the fact, I found that Zoo Nation ranks the exhibit as the second best in the world,[5] so I defer to the experts.

Conservation efforts

According to their website, the Columbus Zoo devotes $4 million annually to the support of conservation efforts in 30 countries around the world. Among those are projects in Africa that combat issues of poverty and unemployment that contribute to poaching and deforestation. I am very impressed by their dedication to the human communities that share the planet with animals, and how they’re working to create environments where humans and animals can coexist peacefully.

Elephants are my second favorite, so they get a whole gallery of their own.

The zoo also has several sustainability initiatives in place, including composting manure and kitchen scraps, energy-efficient lighting, recycling and geothermal heating and cooling. Also, lots of birds.

Educational Value

If you’ve heard of Jack Hanna, you’ve heard of Columbus Zoo’s educational efforts. Hanna is the director emeritus of the zoo, and he’s also known for his television shows, Animal Adventures, Into the Wild, and Wild Countdown. In addition to Jack Hanna’s celebrity status, the zoo also has a variety of educational opportunities for both children and adults, including summer camp, teacher resources, behind-the-scenes tours, outreach programs, and travel opportunities. For the everyday visitor, the Columbus Zoo has highly educational exhibits. I was impressed by an exhibit about the extinction of several tiger sub-species, and the African village exhibit was fascinating.


Admission to this zoo is very expensive. While Franklin County residents get a bit of a break, the rest of us have to pay $17 for kids aged 3-9 years old and $22 for anyone older than 9. There’s also a $10 parking fee. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I was able to visit was because I was in Ohio for job training and I was getting per diem. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. I can’t even imagine how cost prohibitive it would be for a family with several kids. The Columbus Zoo is an incredible force for good in conservation and education, but that doesn’t do much good if people can’t afford to visit the park. I’ve also visited other impressive zoos that didn’t cost nearly as much to visit. But did I mention that they have a lot of birds?

Drumroll Please…

So how does Columbus Zoo fare against our rating system? [pricing] [pricing_column] [line]Variety of Animals 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)[/line] [line]Enclosures and Living Conditions 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)[/line] [line]Conservation Efforts 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)[/line] [line]Educational Value 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)[/line] [line]Accessibility 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)[/line] [price comment=”Final Score”]4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)[/price] [/pricing_column] [/pricing]

Plan Your Visit

[pricing] [pricing_column] [pricing_column_name comment=””]Columbus Zoo and Aquarium[/pricing_column_name] [line]Official Site[/line] [line]Prices: Under 3: Free Ages 3-9: $16.99 Ages 10-59: $21.99 Ages 60+: $16.99 Discounts available for Franklin County residents Parking: $10/car

Prices subject to change. Please see official site for current prices.

[/line] [/pricing_column] [/pricing]

What’s the best zoo you’ve visited?

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[1] Zoos Victoria

[2] IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

[3] Humans and Nature

[4] Wikipedia

[5] Zoo Nation

Claw marks on pin image courtesy of Brusheezy

Please note: The Jest Kept Secret Battle of the Zoos is not an actual competition. These are personal reviews written by me and presented in this format for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not represent any of the zoos reviewed in the Battle of the Zoos series. Please see each zoo’s respective official website for up-to-date information.

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Jess Friedman
Jess is a Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about helping families make and preserve treasured memories that strengthen bonds across generations. You can read more posts by Jess here.

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7 Responses

  1. Fantastic pictures and commentary. I sent a link to your blog to my neighbor who went to the SD Zoo last week for her husband’s company picnic. She really enjoyed it but was concerned about whether it was good for the animals or not. I liked to visit the Columbus zoo when Randy and his family lived there. They had membership passes and I think it was $10 for me last time I went there over 10 years ago. I think what you paid is reasonable, considering amusement parks can be $100 a day, a movie can cost $10, and sitting on the “lawn” at Moonlight Amphitheater tonight for Mama Mia! would cost you $17. What job are you being trained for?

    1. I guess I’ve just been spoiled with cheap zoos! Leslie told me her local zoo costs $37, too. I think the most expensive zoo I visited before this was Oklahoma City, and it was only $10-ish. As for the job, this post is a bit overdue–I was in Ohio for training when I still worked for the state.

  2. Yes, we loved the Columbus Zoo when we lived in Columbus! It really is a world class zoo and is one of the things I still miss about Ohio. We did buy a membership so we could afford to go more often. Glad you got to visit, too, Jess!

    1. I was glad to visit, too. As expensive as it was, I did feel like I got what I paid for. It was definitely one of the best zoos I’ve visited!

  3. Those of us in the Columbus Zoo area can only afford to go because we buy memberships. Last year my goal was to visit the zoo at least twice a month. I got sick before Christmas and missed by goal by one visit. Started over towards the goal this year but the pandemic closed the zoo. Next year.

    1. Oh no! I do hope you’re able to meet your goal next year. That is so frustrating to have missed it because of sickness and the pandemic.

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