12 of the World's Most Unusual Zoos

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1. Caves of Sea Lions


Photo by Flickr user Sam Churchill

Oregon's Sea Lion Caves are the only known mainland rookery and wintering home of the Stellar Sea Lion. The system of sea-level caves also provide sanctuary for the California Sea Lion and serve as a resting place for a variety of birds, from Tufted Puffins to Bald Eagles. There's even a whale watching deck from which visitors can see Gray Whales and migrating orcas.

The caves were discovered by Captain William Cox in 1880, but have only been open to the public since 1932, as the cliffs and lack of roads made it difficult to access the caves by land. Today, visitors can access the caves via their gift shop off of U.S. 101.

2. The High-Altitude Zoo


Photo by Flickr user Mopop

The only specialized zoo in India and the largest high-altitude zoo in India, Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (a.k.a. Darjeeling Zoo), specializes in breeding animals for alpine conditions, including Snow Leopards, Tibetan Wolves, Red Pandas, and Himalayan Newts. The zoo is also home to Blue Sheep, Blood Pheasants and Bhutan Grey Peacock Pheasants, Satyr Tragopans, and Himalayan Monals.

The zoo was established in 1958 as the Himalayan Zoological Park. It was renamed in 1975 when then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dedicated the zoo to the memory of Padmaja Naidu, the former governor of West Bengal.

3. The Biblical Zoo


Photo by Flickr user Oliver McCloud

The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, also known as Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, highlights a collection of animals featured in the Hebrew Bible. The narrow focus has been difficult for the zoo to maintain, since many of the Bible's animals are now extinct in Israel. The terms used in the Bible to name animals are also somewhat ambiguous, leading to some uncertainty over which animals are actually discussed. The zoo now includes a variety of endangered species in addition to the biblical animals, and it has become known for its breeding programs, which have enabled it to reintroduce at least 11 species to Israel's nature reserves.

Since its inception in 1940, the zoo has moved several times, but today it resides in the Malha valley. The two-level park includes trees and shrubs mentioned in the Bible, an artificial wall called Moses' Rock, and a "two-story, boat-shaped wooden visitor's center meant to resemble Noah's Ark."

4. Old MacDonald's Farm


Photo from the Bluebird Gap Farm Facebook page

In 1966, a public park and petting zoo called Old MacDonald's Farm opened in Hampton, Virginia. Designed like a working farm, the park showcases farm animals and fowl as well as Virginia-native wild animals. Now known as Bluebird Gap Farm, the park intends to expose kids to animals in a farm setting, to which they would otherwise have very little exposure.

In addition to the animals, the park showcases both modern and antique farm equipment, the original Hampton train station, a family cemetery, a demonstration garden, and an Azalea Trail featuring rare azaleas.

5. The Butterfly Zoo


Photo by Andréa Fernandes

The U.S. is home to at least 35 butterfly gardens, homes, and exhibits, but the oldest is Florida's Butterfly World, which opened in 1988. (Butterfly World also holds the distinction of being the world's largest butterfly park.) Butterfly World serves as a public attraction, research facility, and butterfly farm.

In addition to approximately 5,000 live butterflies, the park also houses the U.S.'s largest free flight hummingbird aviary, an enclosure in which visitors can feed Lorikeets, tropical birds, botanical gardens, a Bug Zoo with live bugs, and an Insectarium of mounted bugs and butterflies.

6. The Sanctuary for Rescued Animals

New Jersey is home to Popcorn Park Zoo, a sanctuary for abandoned, injured, ill, exploited, abused and elderly animals. The small zoo—housing just 200 animals on 7 acres—has been nurturing rescued animals since 1977. The animals range from foxes, geese, and deer to lions, tigers and bears (oh my!). They also have rescued dogs and cats that are available for adoption.

When I was a child visiting the park with my grandparents, my favorite animal was an elephant with an injured trunk, who was followed around the park by a little troop of ducklings. The elephant would use its trunk to pet and herd the ducklings.

7. The Zoo in a Rainforest


Photo by Flickr user Makuahine Pa'i Ki'i
Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens in Hilo, Hawai'i, is the only U.S. zoo located in a rainforest. At just 12 acres, Pana'ewa is a small zoo, but it boasts a popular white Bengal Tiger named Namaste, who was given to the zoo by the Las Vegas magician Dirk Arthur.

The free zoo is home to more than 80 different animal species, a petting zoo, and a butterfly house.

8. The Koala Sanctuary


Photo by Flickr user Claire L. Evans

Australia, naturally, is home to the world's oldest and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. In addition to the koalas, the sanctuary is also home to other Australian animals, including kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, wombats, echidnas, parrots and cockatoos, reptiles, and a platypus.

Visitors have the rare privilege of being able to hold koalas for a fee. They can also feed and pet free-roaming kangaroos and feed nectar to lorikeets.

9. The Home for Birds of Prey


Photo from the ICBP web site's image gallery

The International Centre for Birds of Prey is located in Gloucestershire, England, and houses some 60 species of owls and other birds of prey. At any given time, the Centre has about 20 to 40 trained birds residing in its Hawk Walk, an assortment of birds that rotates throughout the year to give the birds a break from the spotlight. The trained birds are used in flying demonstrations at the ICBP.

The Centre was originally established in 1967 as the Falconry Centre by the Glasier family, aiming to educate people about birds of prey and teach falconry. (Phillip Glasier was the leading expert on hawking and falconry in the UK; his daughter, Jemima Parry-Jones, is the current director of the ICBP.)

10. The Amusement Park Resort Zoo


Photo by Flickr user Jeremy Thompson

Long before Disney built Animal Kingdom in Florida, England had an amusement park that offered a zoo, rides, and a resort all in one. Flamingo Land, which opened in 1959, is named for its popular colony of pink flamingos, some of the first animals housed at the park, but today the zoo is home to more than 120 species of animals.

The animals are only one facet of this amusement park and resort, which includes more than 50 rides and attractions, three shows, a 9-hole golf course, a fly fishing stream, a 1000-seat entertainment venue, a swimming pool, and log cabins. Flamingo Land was the subject of a "docusoap," Theme Park, on ITV and has also been featured in Zoo Vet at Large on ITV1.

11. The World's Most Northern Zoo


Photo from VisitNorway.com

Norway's Polar Zoo is the world's most northern zoo and the zoo with the biggest area per animal ratio. Spread over 114 acres, the zoo focuses on creating a "Scandinavian wilderness experience," showcasing animals in their natural habitats. The cold-weather animals include wolves and bears as well as red deer, reindeer, moose, and musk ox.

The Polar Zoo offers some unique experiences, including a wolf camp and fox camp in which you can get up close and personal with socialized wolves and foxes, respectively. You can also go "photoguiding," during which a keeper will take you inside enclosures to take "the perfect picture," or join the wolves for a "howl night," in which you not only meet the wolves inside their enclosure but also howl with them.

12. The Harem's Zoo


Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Premiero

Egypt's Giza Zoo, an 80 acre zoological garden encompassing Giza's largest park, first opened in 1891 on land that was once part of the harem gardens. The original collection of animals was taken from the private menagerie of Imsa'il Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt from 1863 to 1879. The harem building itself served as a natural history museum from 1890 through 1902.

Today, the zoo houses a wide variety of animals, but the architectural and botanical features are just as fascinating. The garden roads are paved with black stone flags from Trieste, and footpaths are done in mosaic designs. The zoo includes a suspension bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) that allows visitors to view the animals from above; it is thought to be the world's first elevated viewing area in a zoo. There are also five grottos and a Japanese building.

See all of our 12 lists here.

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December 13, 2012 - 9:12am
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