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Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo

Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo


Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
Two rhinoceros hornbills perch on a tree in the Wings of the World exhibit.

As longtime members of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, we’re offered reciprocal agreements to visit other zoos at a discount.

With our busy lives, we never carved out time to venture to nearby zoos. But that changed during the holidays, when we made a road trip to Cincinnati to see the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

This wonderful urban amenity opened in 1875, making it the country’s second-oldest zoo. That kind of longevity means it’s located right in the city, giving it a certain metropolitan appeal absent from the Columbus Zoo (which we really love, by the way).

The complex houses more than 500 animal and 3,000 plant species, making it a one-of-a-kind destination. We focused mainly on the zoo side, and came away impressed with the variety and uniqueness of several of the exhibits.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
A gorilla claims a hammock at the Gorilla World exhibit.

We especially enjoyed Gorilla World, the recently renovated space for the zoo’s collection of western lowland gorillas and colobus monkeys. The zoo refreshed the outdoor area in spring 2017 and built a new indoor space for the primates a year ago. It was fun watching two of the gorillas battle over a hammock inside their indoor playground.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
Merchandise featuring Fiona the hippo is all the rage in the zoo’s gift shop.

When the weather warms up, most of the attention will be captured by Fiona, a plump, young hippopotamus born on Jan. 24, 2017. The city has gone Fiona gaga, with several businesses supporting her. Fiona hangs out with 19-year-old Bibi in Hippo Cove, which offers underwater viewing and a play area where children can learn about the African mammals. We weren’t able to see Fiona or her friend, as the hippos can’t come outside until it’s 45 degrees or warmer, and their indoor living space is not viewable.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
An owl peers at us in the Night Hunters exhibit.

A few unique exhibits really captured our attention. One was Night Hunters, a trek in the dark where we saw wild animals in a dim atmosphere. They included clouded leopards, Pallas’ cats, a sand cat and predators such as vampire bats, aardvarks, a Burmese python and the potto, a big-eyed prosimian native to Africa.

The Cincinnati Zoo has an awesome aviary exhibit called Wings of the World, which houses birds from various habitats, including rainforests and grasslands. We were impressed by the rhinoceros hornbill, with its striking, horn-shaped casque on its beak, and by the quizzical buff-crested bustard, which lets out a shrill call while traipsing around the African savannah.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
Cockroaches craw through an exhibit at World of the Insect.

We also enjoyed (well, some of us) World of the Insect, a huge collection of things that creep and crawl. Yes, there are big, hairy tarantulas and lots of cockroaches. But the best experience was seeing the amazing giant walking sticks, a species the zoo has maintained since 2000, garnering nationwide acclaim. The captivating creatures can measure over a foot and are incredibly “stick like” in appearance.

Our zoo pass allowed us a discount on food, but if you go, check out the parking situation carefully, which was not organized well.

Learn more about the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.


Watch and listen to this buff-crested bustard we heard at Wings of the World.