I’m a HUGE fan of animals, especially Fiona the Hippo. My mom decided to make a trip to Cincinnati to see the baby hippo that took the Internet by storm for my birthday this year. While there, we fell in love with the Cincinnati Zoo! If you haven’t visited yet, you should. Hopefully, you’ll be convinced to visit by the end of this read.
Warning: many awwww inducing photos of animals ahead.
The Cincinnati Zoo has been open since 1875 – making it the second oldest zoo in the USA (Philadelphia’s Zoo is older by 2 months). The zoo is home to over 1800 animals from 500+ species (including the famous Fiona). It’s massive at 75 acres, so you can easily spend the entire day seeing the animals and exploring the botanical gardens.
The Elephant Reserve is one of the first things you’ll see when you enter the Cincinnati Zoo. This reserve is home to the zoo’s Asian Elephants. On one side, you’ll find the females: Jati, Mai Thai, and Scottzie. The Bull elephant, Sabu, is in his own area on the other side of the reserve. At the center of the Elephant Reserve is the Elephant House, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark way back in 1906!
The Education Center is mainly full of classroom spaces, so there aren’t a ton of animals there. What they in lack of exhibits they make up in the star of the center: the two-toed sloth. Y’all. I love sloths. They are such majestic creatures who really only eat, sleep, and climb down from their trees once a week to poop. That’s basically the goal, right? The two-toed sloth is named Moe and she is seriously gorgeous. If Moe is in her nest, head up the stairs and look down at that precious creature from above! Aside from Moe, there is a blue and gold macaw and a boa constrictor in the area!
Unsurprisingly, Giraffe Ridge is home to the zoo’s Giraffes. Right now, there are 5 giraffes: Kimba (father), Tessa (mother), and Lulu (daughter), as well as Jambo and Cece. The zoo’s giraffes are Masai Giraffes. Masai is the largest species of giraffe and the tallest animal in the world! You are able to see the giraffes eye-to-eye, as the observation area is a raised platform that looks over the 27,000 square-foot exhibit.
When we visited, we were able to feed the giraffes! It was $5 for 2 pieces of lettuce and was 1-million-percent worth it.
The Africa portion of the zoo houses animals that are native to Africa. The loop can take some time to get through because there are so many cool animals along the way! Once you leave Giraffe Ridge, you’ll stroll past some Flamingos and right into the African Lion exhibit. The lions are named John and Imani and are so gorgeous. John even has his own Twitter!
If the timing is right, you can leave the African Lion exhibit and head to the Cheetah Encounter show, where you can see cheetahs show their speed! It blew me away – they ran so fast that I couldn’t follow them for a video on my phone. The cheetah’s even have a companion dog who hangs out with them named Moose! If the show isn’t happening, head left from the lions and check the cheetahs out in their exhibit.
Once you’ve seen the cheetah’s, head over the bridge to the African Savannah area. You’ll see a Warthog, East African Crowned Crane, Impala, Lesser Kudu, Vultures, and Ostrich. Once you pass the Savannah, you’ll run into the exhibits that house the pack of African Painted Dogs and the family of Meerkats. After you’ve gotten your fill with these cuddly creatures, you’re ready to head further up in Africa to see the park’s most famous resident: Fiona.
Okay so technically Hippo Cove is part of Africa, but I’m not about to NOT give Fiona the Hippo her own section in this post. To enter Hippo Cove, you turn the bend and into a covered area that kind of resembles a cave. Right in front of you will be a tank with big glass panes where Fiona and Bibi spend their days. There will be a TON of people, it is Fiona after all. Be prepared to be patient.
We went to Hippo Cove twice during the day. The first time was in the morning, after we had gone through all of the above mentioned exhibits. It was around noon and Fiona and Bibi were snoozing. We went back to Hippo Cove around 3:30 and BAM! Fiona and Bibi were playful as could be and there was a smaller crowd. Definitely head back if you don’t get your full Fiona fix the first time.
Wings of the World
The Wings of the World exhibit is home to winged animals. This includes so many flying friends, but the real stars of Wings of the World are the penguins! The zoo has 5 types of penguins that can be seen in the same exhibit: King Penguins, Rockhopper Penguins, African Penguins, Magellanic Penguins, and Little Penguins. The Cincinnati Zoo is serious about conserving these feathered friends, especially the African Penguins. In the winter, some of the penguins take place in a daily parade where they walk from the Wings of the World building to an outdoor exhibit in the Children’s Zoo.
The Wolf Woods area of the zoo is home to creatures that call North America home. The first one you’ll see is a sassy California Sea Lion (pictured above). Once you wander past the California Sea Lion, you’ll enter Wolf Woods. Here, you can visit with a cute little grey fox, try to spot the Mexican Wolves (who are very good at camouflage!), and watch the River Otters (Sugar and Leslie!) play. The otters are some of my favorites, so naturally I had to stop and admire them for 10 solid minutes.
The Jungle Trails portion of the Cincinnati Zoo is primate central! While on the trail, you’ll encounter Bonobos, Aye-Ayes, Sumatran Orangutans, Gibbons, Lemurs, and Coquerel’s Sifakas. These primates are spread out over a number of exhibits. We visited just before a rain shower began and each species was incredibly active (except one Orangutan, who just wanted to eat his box of fruit).
Pay special attention to the Aye-Ayes, who are strange little critters who tap on trees and use their hearing to find bugs to eat. Another particularly interesting primate is the Bonobo, who share 98% of DNA with humans! Bonobos have even been known to make and use tools – how cool!
Kroger Lords of the Arctic
Kroger Lords of the Arctic is home to three types of bears: the Andean Bear, the American Black Bear, and the Polar Bear. The Andean Bear is native to South America, skilled at climbing trees, and loves snacking on fruits. Andean Bears are classified as “At-Risk” for extinction because of major habitat loss. Next is the American Black Bear, which is found mostly in the US and Canada. The species used to be hard to find in the wild because of habitat loss and major overhunting, but, thankfully, the population has started making a comeback! Finally, we have the Polar Bears. The zoo is home to two Polar Bears: Little One (male) and Anana (female). Anana is currently pregnant and is due sometime this fall, which means we will have yet another Cincinnati Zoo baby to obsess over!
The Rhino Reserve is home to another famous Zoo Baby: Kendi the Black Rhino! You can barely see his little legs in the above picture, as he’s hiding behind his mom, Seyia. At the end of the Reserve, you’ll see the resident Indian Rhino, Manjula. He usually lounges in his pool on warmer days.
The Reserve also has a TON of baby flamingos, which can be identified by their grey feathers. Flamingos are born grey and turn pink over time thanks to pigments they get from all the shrimp they eat. Along the way, you’ll also see the hooved mammals: Zebras, Bongo, Yellow-Backed Duiker, and Okapi!
Children’s Zoos are my literal hell, as they are typically full of children screaming to get to animals, so we skipped this section. If you’re willing to brave this area, you’ll see barnyard animals like Alpacas, Goats, Sheep, Llamas, and Mini-Pigs, as well as Wallaby. In the winter, the King Penguins are situated in an outdoor exhibit in this section for portions of the day.
Manatee Springs is home to a variety of North American animals! This includes the Florida Manatee, American Alligator, American Crocodile, the Alligator Snapping Turtle, and various snakes and river fish. The Cincinnati Zoo does something really awesome for Florida Manatees – they take in injured or orphaned manatees from the wild, get them healthy, and release them back into the wild! Manatees are incredibly cool, as they’re the only herbivorous mammal designed to spend their entire lives in the water – they really are sea cows! Manatees used to be on the Endangered Species List, but, because of the efforts of places like Cincinnati Zoo, legislations, and changes made by the general public, the Manatee’s status has been downgraded to Vulnerable.
After you exit Manatee Springs, make sure to head to the left and see the White Lions! White Lions are a rare color mutation of the African Lion where they don’t produce dark pigments. They are from the Timbavatai region of South Africa. White Lions stopped really being seen in the wild around 1994, but, because of recent lion releases, small prides in the Timbavatai region are surviving!
Lemurs and Kimono Dragon
Lemurs and a Kimono Dragon are a weird pair to put together, but the Cincinnati Zoo has them displayed side-by-side. Surprisingly, it works! The lemurs are so playful that it’s almost exhausting to watch and the Kimono Dragon is the exact opposite, basking in the sun.
World of Insect
I am not a huge fan of bugs and spiders absolutely terrify me, so it isn’t surprising that I skipped visiting the World of Insect. I’m sure that World of Insect is a great addition to a day at the zoo if bugs are your thing. World of Insect houses giant bugs, small bugs, backyard bugs, so many spiders, scorpions and, surprisingly, Naked Mole Rats.
The Cat Canyon is just behind Night Hunters and is home to some of the Cincinnati Zoo’s feline friends. First up are the cougars. The zoo has two, brothers Joseph and Tecumseh. They like to hang out in more elevated spots! Next are the Malayan Tigers, which are the largest cats in the world. They are fewer than 3,900 left in the wild and the zoo is working hard on ensuring the survival of the species. Finally, you’ll see the Snow Leopards, Renji and Nubu. Their fur expertly camouflage into the rocks around them, so you may have to look hard. If all else fails, check their “den”, as at least one may be napping (they are cats, after all).
The Night Hunters house packed full of animals and is home to another famous Cincinnati Zoo baby: Winsol the baby Aardvark! You can see him playing with his mom, Ali, in their room in the house. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from the Night Hunters building because the lighting in the building sucks for pictures (but is great for seeing nocturnal animals!).
The Night Hunters house has so many feline friends! First up is the Pallas Cat, which is roughly the size of a house cat and is from the mountainous regions of central Asia. Next is the Bobcat, super powerful cats who usually hunt rabbits, but have been known to hunt down animals around 10 times their weight! The zoo also has Cloud Leopards, beautiful creatures that have the biggest teeth of any cat. Next is the Southern Brazilian Ocelot, who resemble tigers, but with spots instead of stripes. The African native Black Footed Cat is one of the smallest breeds of wild cats, and they’re totally nocturnal! Next is the Sand Cat, who is orange in color, has large ears, and burrows to cool off. The Fishing Cat gets its name from the fish that it eats and is about twice the size of a house cat. Finally, we have the Caracal, who is identifiable by the tufts of black hair that comes off the tips of its ears.
Other Night Hunter animals are the small primates Potto and Garnett’s Galago, the Aardwolf (who is actually related to the hyena), the Bat-Eared Fox, Vampire Bats and Giant Fruit Bats, a Burmese Python, Fennec Foxes, and Bearcats. PHEW! I told you Night Hunters was packed full of animals!
The Cincinnati Zoo is home to a family of Western Lowland Gorillas. Right now, there are ten: little Elle, Mondika, Gladys, Samantha, Jomo, M’Linzi, Mara, Chewie, Asha, and male Mshindi. Unfortunately, Gorilla World sometimes gets a bad rap because of the Harambe incident, but that shouldn’t be the case. The zoo keepers obviously love the heck out of the gorillas! Just ask any of the zoo workers stationed at Gorilla World and they can tell you all about the distinct personality of each gorilla.
While you’re in Gorilla World, you can spot yet another zoo baby: Octavius the baby colobus monkey! He’s usually hanging on to his mom, Adanna, and the rest of the crew in their space, which is right before you see the gorillas!
Reptile House and Wildlife Canyon
On the way out of the park, we swung by the Galapagos Tortoise exhibit, which just opened in May! The Galapagos Tortoise is the largest species of tortoise in the world and can live to be over 150 years old. They’re an at-risk species, so, unfortunately, zoos may be the only place to see these creatures in the future.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any hot tips to give y’all on the Reptile House and Wildlife Canyon because we had to leave the zoo before exploring these areas. We, regretfully, can’t control the weather. This means we missed many frogs, snakes, salamanders, and turtles from the Reptile House and camels, capybara, emu, takin, a warty pig, and Przewalski’s Horse from Wildlife Canyon.
This trip to Cincinnati was the first I’d taken since I was in undergraduate, and the zoo was even better than I’d remembered. I had the best day at the Cincinnati Zoo and can’t wait to visit again.
PS: Haven’t gotten your cute animal fix? Check out my guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom!