Sprawling across vast expanses of land, the world’s biggest zoos provide unrivalled opportunities to witness the breathtaking diversity of our planet’s fauna and to connect with wildlife and nature. These colossal institutions play a pivotal role in conservation, education, rehabilitation and research, while captivating the hearts and minds of millions of visitors every year.
In one form or another, zoos and menageries have been around for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Middle Eastern and Roman civilisations all kept large collections of exotic animals. In the Middle Ages, the Tower of London housed one of the world’s most prominent collections of animals.
Modern zoos became commonplace in major cities in the nineteenth century and slowly transitioned from arenas of pure entertainment to institutions dedicated to research, education, scientific study and latterly conservation, rehabilitation and rescue.
Determining the size of the largest zoo in the world can be done in a number of ways. By physical size, number of animals or number of species. For the purposes of this article we’re going to use the approximate number of animals as our guide.
From small city farms to the world’s biggest zoos and the biggest safari parks on the planet, each one has its own unique characteristics that make it special.
Location: Vienna, Austria | Size: Approx. 42 acres | Animals: Approx. 8,250
Vienna Zoo is located in the gardens of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace. It may not be the biggest zoo in the world but it is the world’s oldest operational zoo, dating back to 1752. The first elephant arrived in 1770 and it received its first giraffe in 1828 as a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt. Today, the zoo welcomes around two million visitors a year and has one of Europe’s most accomplished species protection programmes. It’s also one of the small number of zoos in the world that includes giant pandas.
National Zoological Garden of South Africa
Location: Pretoria, South Africa | Size: Approx. 210 acres | Animals: Approx. 9,000
Commonly known as Pretoria Zoo, the National Zoological Garden is South Africa’s largest zoo and also one of the biggest zoos in the world. Founded in 1899, it’s home to over 9,000 animals.
Today, the zoo contains some of the world’s most magnificent creatures including leopards, rhinos, giraffes, elephants, zebras, lions, and Western lowland gorillas.
Pretoria Zoo is also involved with a number of research programmes, including zoological diagnostic pathology and molecular genetics, as well as a working group to ensure the long-term preservation of the Samango monkey.
Location: Beijing, China | Size: Approx. 220 acres | Animals: Approx. 14,500
Opened in 1907, China’s oldest zoo is a contender for biggest zoo in the world. Among almost 1,000 different species, it hosts a remarkable collection of rare and endangered animals including Siberian and South China tigers, giant pandas and Asian black bears.
The Beijing Aquarium which opened in 1999 inside the park includes beluga whales, dolphins and sea lions, and the zoo attracts around six million visitors every year.
Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
Location: Nebraska, USA | Size: Approx. 130 acres | Animals: Approx. 17,000
Opened in 1894 as the Riverview Park Zoo, the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha was renamed in 1963 after a prominent Nebraskan. By number of animals, it ranks amongst the largest zoos in the world.
As well as being renowned as a world-class research institute, it’s said to contain the world’s biggest indoor swamp, one of the world’s largest indoor rainforests, and the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome.
Berlin Zoological Garden: The World’s Largest Zoo
Location: Berlin, Germany | Size: Approx. 87 acres | Animals: Approx. 20,000
Europe’s most visited zoo was established in 1844 and it’s believed there are over 20,000 animals covering almost 1,400 different species. By the number of animals, Berlin Zoo is therefore often stated to be the largest zoo in the world.
As well as having one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of animal species, the zoo collaborates with many of the world’s premier education and research institutions and is involved in global breeding, reintroduction and endangered species programmes.
The UK’s Largest Zoo
The UK is home to a number of world-class zoos including Chester, Whipsnade, Edinburgh, Paignton and Colchester. However, the UK’s largest zoo by number of animals, and a contender for the biggest zoo in the world, is the 36-acre London Zoo.
The world’s oldest scientific zoo opened its doors to the public in 1847, and is reputed to have around 19,300 animals. One of the planet’s most famous zoological institutions, London Zoo is a world-leading research centre and participates in breeding and reintroduction programmes for endangered species, animal protection, and efforts to protect natural habitats – all contributing to the global conservation of wildlife.
Whipsnade Zoo, while it has fewer animals, is much bigger than London Zoo, at around 600 acres.
The World’s Biggest Safari Park
The world’s biggest zoos are typically characterised by enclosures or exhibits where animals are housed within a designated area. Safari parks, also known as wildlife parks or drive-through parks, provide a more expansive, open environment where animals have larger spaces to roam, often resembling their natural habitat.
One of, if not the biggest safari park in the world, is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California, USA. It covers an area of around 1,800 acres and is home to around 3,000 animals, as well as the world’s largest collection of hoofed mammals.
The park also houses the biggest veterinary hospital in the world, and is Southern California’s quarantine centre for zoo animals coming into the US through San Diego.
Despite its impressive size, San Diego Zoo pales in comparison to some of the world’s largest wildlife reserves. These vast conservation areas make the San Diego Zoo seem like a compact city zoo by contrast.
Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is over 14,600 square kilometres, Kruger National
Park in South Africa is just shy of 20,000 square kilometres and the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil cover as much as 195,000 square kilometres, or roughly 80% of the size of the UK!