A zoo is defined as “living animals kept in an enclosure, garden or park for public display,” but never mentions the educational and entertainment value presented in a safe, family-friendly environment. Animal expert Jack Hanna called zoo animals “ambassadors for their cousins in the wild.” Could those cousins be members of an exotic species or an endangered one?
Outstanding zoos in Kentucky
Starting with the official state zoo, the Louisville Zoo
hosts some 1,700 animals – from Addax antelope to vultures and warthogs – on 134 acres of stimulating natural settings representing nine distinctive areas. Four of those nine are considered their Signature exhibits:
- Glacier Run is an award-winning arctic wilderness exhibit that teaches conservation through observation of the primary residents (sea lions, sea eagles, snowy owls, grizzly bears and polar bears.
- In the innovative Gorilla Forest you’ll discover 10 Western lowland gorillas, meet two pigmy hippos in their habitats and learn all about these huge, gentle primates.
- The Islands is home to endangered or threatened species, which appear in rotational sequences throughout changing environments.
- Flocks of colorful, playful and talkative parrots are located at Lorikeet Landing in Rainbow Springs in the Australian area – one of our most popular interactive exhibits.
With so much to see (don’t miss the endangered black-footed ferrets) and do (participate in a daily animal training session) one could easily spend a full day and not cover it all.
Kangaroos … in Kentucky?
If you’ve always been attracted to Australia, take a trip to Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo near Horse Cave, KY. Started by a couple who met in New Zealand but eventually resettled in Kentucky, the Adventure Zoo boasts an extremely unique collection of creatures, including a Servel cat, New Guinea singing dog, Woma pythons, laughing kookaburra, white bison, Sun Conure (tropical parakeet), red and gray kangaroos, Patagonian Cavy or Mara (rabbit like rodent), miniature horses and zebu (humped) cows. \
Venom, Research & Herpetology
If you don’t find reptiles revolting you’ll be fascinated with the Kentucky Reptile Zoo in Slade, KY near Natural Bridge State Park. Kids of all ages enjoy visiting the Turtle Tracks area, meeting Fluffy (the alligator), seeing the largest resident snake (an 18-foot reticulated python) and watching venom being milked from a poisonous snake. The Reptile Zoo is an active participant in venom research and herpetology; scientists use the zoo for venom samples and behavioral studies using live reptiles.
It’s not fancy but it’s free
Folks love to bring their kids and grandkids to visit the eclectic menagerie of rescued critters cared for by Henry’s Ark in Prospect. Privately owned and open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm, recent issues have resulted in a new “No Feed” policy at this not-for-profit animal sanctuary. But you’re still likely to find alpaca, bison, buffalo, camels, ducks, elk, emus, goats, llamas, ostrich, peacocks, porcupines, sheep, swans, yaks and zebras at home here.
Wet, Wild and Wonderful
Want to start your day with a penguin parade? That’s the morning routine at the state-of-the-art Newport Aquarium. Open daily, the aquarium features family-friendly and super fun attractions and exhibits such as dive shows, otter talks, feedings and training sessions. The aquarium also includes 70 exhibits, 14 galleries and five underwater tunnels that showcase thousands of marine creatures in “a million gallons of fun.” Snakes, turtles, gators and Amazonian critters are also on exhibit.
Looming, Large and Life-like
Although the definition of zoo is “live” animals for public display, the 150 gigantic creatures of the past at Dinosaur World in Cave City near Mammoth Cave National Park are life-size and presented in recreated natural environments. Take an excursion through the family-owned and-operated theme park. Free 15-minute fossil dig included with each child’s admission. Pack your own snacks and lunch as no food service is available. Bring your leashed pet and park free.
Some “Pet and Feed” Farms & Zoos in Kentucky
- Acorn Lane Farm Petting Zoo and Boone Gardiner Garden Center, Crestwood, is open Wednesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Bring the family to see goats and guineas, pigs and peacocks, ducks and donkeys, rabbits and more.
- Amazing Acres, Hopkinsville, is open to the public on Saturdays in October; Spring and Fall by appointment only. The farm produces hay, tobacco and strawberries but come see the Kentucky wildlife rehabilitated by owner Natalie Allison – buffalo, ducks, elk, goat, geese, raccoon, rabbits, skunks and more are “spoiled rotten and love to be petted.”
- Gallrein Farms, Shelbyville, is a third-generation 1929 family dairy farm that added crops (fruits, vegetables, grain and tobacco), then a bakery (open for lunch) and, recently, a petting zoo of farm animals.
- Trunnell’s Farm Market, Utica, offers fun for all with an animal barnyard of typical farm critters, a bee barn where you can observe hive activity or a horse barn offering rides.