The Best Zoos in Texas to Experience Wildlife

Tiger at zoo
Tiger at zoo | © Jessica Weiller / Unsplash
Amanda Ogle

Zoos are not only great for viewing exotic animals up close and personal, they’re great for conservation and education, too. Get a step closer to wildlife and learn a deeper appreciation for animals at one of these zoos.

1. Fort Worth Zoo


1. Fort Worth Zoo
© Wasif Malik / Flickr

As the oldest continuous zoo site in Texas, the Fort Worth Zoo is a shining example of conservation, education, and entertainment. The zoo, which has approximately 1 million visitors annually, is one of the top in the country, and houses more than 7,000 animals in natural habitat exhibits. The zoo has more than 540 species including 148 species of birds, 172 species of ectotherms—think cold blooded animals—and 72 species of mammals. New in 2018 is the African Savanna, a 10-acre, mixed-species space with giraffe feedings, underwater hippo-viewing, multiple yards for southern black rhinos, and exotic bird aviaries. Must-see animals are the Asian elephants, Komodo dragons, African lions, black rhinos, gorillas, and hippos. There are multiple eateries and gift shops on site, and a 14,000-square-foot children’s splash pad provides pre- or post-zoo fun.

2. Houston Zoo

Aquarium, Park, Zoo

2. Houston Zoo
© yuxi3200 / flickr
Open since the 1920s, the Houston Zoo is a leader in the industry. The zoo has more than 6,000 animals, and sees more than 2 million guests each year. Animal encounter opportunities are an exciting part of this zoo, and include piranha feedings, giraffe feedings, sea lion encounters, and more. Aquatic animals include giant Pacific octopus and moon jellyfish, and endangered species include the Houston toad, Panamanian golden frog, Asian elephants, western lowland gorillas, okapi (forest giraffes), orangutans, and southern white rhinos. This zoo gets bonus points for its sustainability efforts as well. As of March 2018, the zoo removed single-use plastic straws from all concession stands, and has removed plastic bags from gift shops and single-use plastic water bottles. Water-bottle refilling stations are located throughout the zoo. Food and drink are available at multiple cafes, food trucks, food stands, and gift shops.

3. Austin Zoo


3. Austin Zoo
© MarkScottAustinTX / Flickr

While this Austin zoo doesn’t have the “big” zoo animals like elephants and rhinos, it definitely has a big heart. All of the animals at this zoo are rescues, either from other facilities retiring them due to age, health, or other issues; animals that were seized in animal cruelty cases; retired lab research animals; and individuals’ exotic pets they needed to rehome. There are over 350 animals across 100 different species at the nonprofit zoo, and annual visitors number more than 237,000. The zoo has tigers, lions, black bears, monkeys, lemurs, emu, bobcats, longhorns, snakes, and more. The zoo’s train takes passengers on a scenic 20-minute ride across Texas Hill Country, where some of the zoo’s off-display animals can be seen. Guests are welcome to bring their own food and drinks, or they can purchase food at the zoo concession stand.

4. Gladys Porter Zoo


© Gerardo Santos / Flickr

At almost 50 years old, the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville has 28 acres of tropical plants and around 1,600 animals. There are 377 species of animals in the park, which is divided into four zoogeographic areas: Africa, Asia, Tropical America, and Indo-Australia. The park also has a herpetarium, bear grottos, a Komodo dragon exhibit, and more. Must-see animals include Galapagos tortoises, flamingos, saltwater crocodiles, camels, giraffes, chimpanzees, white rhinos, and boa constrictors. An aquatic center is also available, with a stingray touch tank and exhibits with sharks, seahorses, octopus, and more. While the zoo has numerous bird species as well, visitors delight in learning that many of the birds seen at the zoo are not part of the collection, but come here to find refuge and nest. The zoo sees more than 500,000 visitors a year. Food can be purchased at concessions stands, gift shop, and cafes, as no food may be brought in to the zoo.

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