Take a walk on the wild side and visit one of the many zoos across the nation for your next school field trip. From first-hand animal encounters to archeological dinosaur digs, zoos have something in store for students of every age. Here are 10 top zoos with exciting adventures and activities for student groups:
San Diego Zoo
Although it is known for having the largest colony of koalas and most koala births outside of Australia, the San Diego Zoo just welcomed a new giant panda cub and an African elephant calf. Students can see these animals, along with many others, while on a guided tour with a behind-the-scenes look at zoo life and up-close animal encounters or on a teacher-guided tour using free grade-specific resources offered through the zoo. Safari tours are also available for student groups at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Be sure to ask about the pre-ordered lunch options available for field trips at either location. Admission to both the zoo and safari park is free to San Diego County schools and offered at a largely reduced rate for all other school groups.
Saint Louis Zoo
For the first time in North America, people can experience a sea lion exhibit through an underwater tunnel. The newly opened Sea Lion Sound exhibit offers visitors a chance to walk through the animal habitat while sea lions swim all around them. Students can visit this and other major exhibits when taking one of several themed tours or overnight adventures covering educational topics such as ecology, adaptation, conservation and classification/animals. With offerings in each category available for every grade level, student groups of all ages can enjoy field trips to Saint Louis Zoo. Sack lunches can be brought by groups or arrangements can be made at the time of reservation. General admission to the zoo is free; however, there are fees for some attractions and tours, all of which are offered at discounted group rates. School groups can purchase a class pass that provides reduced admission to the Children’s Zoo, Zooline Railroad and Conservation Carousel.
Another zoo with free admission is the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Although it is known for its giant panda conservation work, the National Zoo is dedicated to helping promote the conservation of all animals and within the last two years has seen the birth of over 400 animals between the two zoo campuses. Visitors can now see seals, sea lions, bald eagles, gray wolves and many other animals at the newest exhibit, the American Trail. Field trips can be planned around daily programs such as animal trainings, feeding demonstrations and keeper talks. A school zoo package is available and includes reserved bus parking, full meals and souvenir panda lunch boxes. Other group packages are also available.
Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
Voted as the No. 1 zoo in the U.S. by Trip Advisor, Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska is home to the world’s largest indoor desert (Desert Dome), largest indoor rainforest (Lied Jungle) and largest nocturnal exhibit (Kingdoms of the Night). Through the new “Ed-Zoo-cational” experience, students can gain hands-on learning while taking a “Walk About Tour” covering topics such as habits and habitats, vanishing wildlife, animals undercover and Wildlife Safari Park. Students can also get up-close-and-personal with selected animals during a zoo animal presentation. For a night your students will never forget, plan a themed campout at specific locations throughout the zoo, aquarium and safari.
Not only do student groups receive special prices on educational tours but they also receive discounted tram tours and monorail passes. Teachers are encouraged to enhance their field trips with activities such as giraffe or pelican feedings, animal encounters, zookeeper talks and camel rides. The newest exhibit at Zoo Miami, Wings Down Under, is an interactive exhibit with free-flying parrots, cockatiels and parakeets that will eat out of the palm of your hand. Amazon and Beyond, another new exhibit, is comprised of over 600 animals—such as monkeys, snakes, frogs, crocodiles and giant river otters—and divided into three areas: Cloud Forest, Amazon Forest and Atlantic Forest. In 2014 Zoo Miami will open another new exhibit, Florida: Mission Everglades, which will be made up of plants and animals native to Florida’s ecosystems.
Woodland Park Zoo
With the birth of two snow leopard cubs and groundbreaking on phase one of a new tiger and sloth bear exhibit scheduled to open in 2013, Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle continues to add to its impressive list of award-winning exhibits. Students can learn about zoo life and animal conservation through the ZEST (Zoo Experiences for Students and Teachers) program. ZEST topics range from tropical rainforest explorations to Arctic animal survival guides; each includes downloadable resources to prepare your group before their visit. Groups can also learn about endangered animals at the zoo and across the world and learn what they can do to help. ZEST programs are free to all student groups with admission to the zoo.
Located just outside Chicago, Brookfield Zoo offers several exciting opportunities for student groups. Zoo talks give students the opportunity to learn about specific animals, habitats or regions of the world before touring the zoo and seeing them first-hand. Talks can also include information on zoo careers, animal training or exhibit designs. Connections classes are also available and consist of activities such as nature hikes and topics such as conservation and science research. Zoo admission is free to all school groups from Illinois and discounted for out-of-state school groups. While at Brookfield Zoo, be sure to check out the newly born dwarf mongoose pups in Habitat Africa and look for Pepe the penguin who occasionally walks about the Living Coast exhibit as an ambassador to his species.
At the Bronx Zoo, the world’s largest urban zoo, student groups can participate in educational programs with topics such as animals of the land, animals of the air or animals of the water. Other program topics focus on a specific species of animal, and there is even a program that demonstrates the importance of math in the conservation of animals. The zoo’s newest exhibit, Madagascar, offers visitors a view of over 150 animals including Nile crocodiles, hissing cockroaches and several species of lemurs. Visitors can also see six tiger cubs at the Tiger Mountain exhibit and relax on the Wild Asia Monorail tour. Keep in mind the daily animal feedings and demonstrations when planning your group trip.
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Cincinnati Zoo is the second oldest zoo in the United States, has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is known as the greenest zoo in America because of its environmental initiatives. While at the Go Green Garden, visitors can see the changes made around the zoo and learn ways to go green at home. Groups also have the chance to feed lorikeets at Lorikeet Landing, walk with penguins at the Spaulding Children’s Zoo Penguin Walkabout, see Lulu the newborn giraffe at the African exhibit and see the only Sumatran Rhinos on display in the nation. The newly expanded Cat Canyon offers a closer view of tigers, leopards and cougars than ever before. These features and many others can be seen by groups taking guided or self-guided tours of the zoo. In addition to tours, activities available for student groups include hands-on animal demonstrations of up to three animals, zookeeper talks, mobile “Wild Pack” gear for scientific investigation and an Adventure Pass filled with missions and explorations throughout the zoo. All activities can be fit to meet almost any grade level. Tours are also available at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) for student groups interested in learning about the zoo’s conservation research projects.
From the African Savannah to the World of Primates, the Audubon Nature Institute’s Audubon Zoo in New Orleans has much to offer visitors. Students can learn about zebras and giraffes in the African Savanna, experience a digging site in Jaguar Jungle and see some of the world’s endangered amphibians in Disappearing Amphibians. The Louisiana Swamp Exhibit showcases plant and animal life found in local Louisiana swamplands. Other interesting attractions at the Audubon Zoo are the Cool Zoo splash park, Audubon’s Dinosaur Adventure and the Diefenthal EarthLab with interactive games and science experiments. Teachers can download an endangered species scavenger hunt or a language of conservation poetry scavenger hunt for their groups to use while visiting the zoo. Discounted rates and lunch option are available for school groups.
Ashley Braun is an Editorial Intern at Premier Tourism Marketing. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in English-Creative Writing from Kentucky Wesleyan College and is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Writing and Publishing at DePaul University.