In my KelbyOne Wildlife Photography Conference class on
Honing your Craft: Practicing your wildlife Photography at a Zoo
I promised I would post a list of zoos that have sections devoted to local wildlife.
I polled a group of Docents from around the United States, and Zootographers from around the world, and this is the information I got back. It is by no means a complete list, but if you are interested in Wildlife photography, I whole-heartedly suggest that you start with animals local to where you live. I get that many people can’t go out into the wilds of Africa, or Asia, or maybe even to a seashore. But the vast majority of people live reasonably close to a zoo or wildlife preserve of some kind. And when those places show you the wonders of your local wildlife, you may find a new interest in species closer to home.
I had a little trouble alphabetizing these since some places like Zoo Miami place the “Zoo” in front, so I put that under “M” instead. If you don’t see your favorite zoo that has a section put aside for local wildlife, please let me know in the comments below and I will add it to the list. I did my best to keep most of the descriptions matching what I was given by the Docents or photographers.
In the United States…
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – https://www.desertmuseum.org/
This is at the top of the list alphabetically but could also be by the very nature of the fact that it is totally devoted to Arizona wildlife. It is also where I got a lot of great photos of Hummingbirds, and Bighorn Sheep. There are lots of chances to photograph birds in flight as well.
Audubon Zoo in New Orleans – https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/
This zoo has a Louisiana Swamp section.
Beardsley Zoo in Connecticut – https://www.beardsleyzoo.org/
If you like photographing butterflies, this zoo has butterfly and pollinator gardens.
Brookfield Zoo in Illinois – https://www.czs.org/Brookfield-ZOO/Home
There is a Forest Preserve Nature Trail that takes you around a lake. What better way to photograph birds in flight than to find a time for the sun and wind to both be at your back?
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado – https://www.cmzoo.org/
The area known as Rocky Mountain Wild is uniquely suited to show off native Colorado species due to actually being in the mountains!
Cosley Zoo in Wheaton Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) – https://cosleyzoo.org/
A very small zoo that has mostly North American wildlife, usually animals that were rehabbed but not enough to be released into the wild. Ichabod Crane has a wonky right wing and Frasier Crane has a wonky left wing. Someone tried to make a pet out of Wiley Coyote. Yes, they have fun with names. Michael J, the new fox is finally getting used to people. As small as they are, they were still able to obtain the AZA certification that means they adhere to some extremely strict standards.
Detroit Zoo’s Belle Isle Nature Center – https://belleislenaturecenter.detroitzoo.org/
This area is closed as of the time I type this, but hopefully will reopen soon. Belle Isle Nature Center visitors are able to get an insider’s view of an actual beehive and get an up-close view of Michigan wildlife.
El Paso Zoo – http://www.elpasozoo.org/
The brand new Chihuahuan Desert exhibit might just be a great place for a photographer to get some photos to share with the zoo. Such things can lead to more opportunities and special access. What better way for a hobbyist to contribute their community? And once you get them in the zoo, you will be better informed to capture the photos you want out in the desert surrounding El Paso.
Fort Worth Zoo in Texas – https://www.fortworthzoo.org/
Focusing on conservation issues, Texas Wild! paints a picture of the Lone Star State by leading visitors through the state’s different regional landscapes. By the time guests finish their tour through the exhibit, they can say they’ve seen Texas in a day! Texas is home to more animal species than any other state in the nation, so learn what is around you at home in Texas!
Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott AZ – http://www.heritageparkzoo.org/
This is my new “Home” zoo. At ten acres. it is much more a sanctuary for rescued animals than an actual zoo, but photographic opportunities abound. Not only zoo residents but local wildlife. I have seen rabbits and Roadrunners passing through and a family of Javelinas out past the parking lot. Down the road where it dead ends at Willow Lake, is where I have been able to photograph lots of water fowl. If you are ever in the Prescott area, let me know and I would be happy to meet you at the zoo to show you some of my favorite spots.
Houston Zoo, Kathrine G. McGovern Texas Wetlands – https://www.houstonzoo.org/explore/exhibits/texas-wetlands/
The Texas Wetlands brings together three native Texas species — bald eagles, whooping cranes, and American alligators — in a lush wetland habitat. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act and the efforts of Texans, these three species, once close to extinction, now thrive in the Lone Star State.
Jacksonville Zoo in Florida – https://www.jacksonvillezoo.org/
Wild Florida is 2.5 acres of natural wetlands consisting of native animals and plants and is home to alligators, black bears, whooping cranes, bald eagles, bobcats, white-tailed deer and pudu.
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari in Nebraska – http://www.wildlifesafaripark.com/
It gets darn cold in Nebraska so this place is not open in the Winter. Your membership can be added to your Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium membership. Spot bison, elk, bears, wolves, pelicans and waterfowl on your drive through with chances to get out of the car and photograph from lookouts.
Maryland Zoo in Baltimore Maryland – https://www.marylandzoo.org/
The Maryland Wilderness area at the zoo includes Bobcats! One of my favorite animals to photograph.
Zoo Miami in Florida – https://www.zoomiami.org/
Florida: Mission Everglades has a fine showing of mammal, reptile, and bird life native to Florida. They have the fabled Florida panther and the rare American crocodile.
Oakland Zoo in California – https://www.oaklandzoo.org/
The California Trail takes up more than half of the zoo’s 100 acres. This was my home zoo for many years, and where I got my start as a Zootographer. I left California in November of 2020 but I hope to take many trips back to the Oakland Zoo to photograph any new animals that have been born, hatched, or acquired since I left. I can’t recommend it enough. Especially the wolves, black bears, bison, and other animals you can photograph without fencing or mesh of any kind in the way. The California Trail features animals that are native to California. Grizzly Bears are no longer seen in the wilds of California even though that is a Grizzly on the California State flag., and there are only a very few Gray Wolves roaming California, but wolves have been seen coming down from Oregon more and more at time passes.
Orange County Zoo in California – https://www.ocparks.com/zoo
This little zoo’s focus is on animals and plants native to the southwestern United States. So it is a little bit of a stretch to call it “local”, but I thought I might add it to the list anyway. Animals on exhibit include black bears, mountain lions, bald eagle, island foxes, ocelot, red-tailed hawk, great horned owls, porcupine, coyotes, turkey vultures, coati and more. If you visit, please let me know what you think.
Phoenix Zoo in Arizona – https://www.phoenixzoo.org/
The Phoenix Zoo has the Arizona Trail, with coyotes, javelinas, bald eagles, and other local wildlife. Their Bobcat is named Roberto Gato. I was not going to explain it, but, oh well. Roberto is a variation on Robert. Many people named Robert are called “Bob”. Gato is Spanish for “Cat”. Therefore his name is Bob Cat. Zookeeper humor. What can you do? They don’t pay them very well, so we have to allow them something.
I am also a member of this zoo. It really is a great place to photograph some native animals, and there are lots of wild birds flying around the lake. The photos of BIF from my Conference class were shot here.
San Diego Zoo in California – https://sandiegozoowildlifealliance.org/
While I am not aware of a special section for California animals, both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park have lots of migratory birds. Especially the Safari Park. Plus the Park is surrounded by 900 acres of natural ecosystem that will not be built on so native critters wander in and around the Park. A lot.
St. Louis Zoo in Missouri – https://www.stlzoo.org/
This zoo has an enclosed Cypress Swamp for Missouri birds.
Virginia Living Museum – https://thevlm.org/
The Virginia Living Museum is home to more than 250 species of animals found in Virginia including reptiles, mammals, birds and fish. They provide a sanctuary for orphaned, non-releasable or injured animals.
Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary in Georgia (East of Atlanta) –https://yellowriverwildlifesanctuary.com/
The main focus is to connect people that live in places like downtown Atlanta to not only appreciate the wildlife they can find in their own backyard but to also experience them. They have lynx, coyote, gray fox, skunk, raccoon, deer, black bear, opossum, red shouldered Hawks, black vultures, turkey vultures and great horned owls.
Calgary Zoo in Canada – https://www.calgaryzoo.com/
In the Canadian Wilds section you can get to know some of Canada’s most impressive animals as you wander along the forested pathways of the Canadian Wilds. You’ll see bears splashing in their pond, wolves snoozing in the sun and eagles perched high in the treetops. They say that even if you’re a hiker, you’ve probably never had such extraordinary views of cougars, bison, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Toronto Zoo in Canada – https://www.torontozoo.com/
The Canadian Domain has everything from raccoons to bison and grizzly bears. The Tundra Trek has everything from snow geese, to arctic wolves and polar bears. Because…depending on where you are in Canada, this could be your neighborhood.
In the UK…
Chester Zoo in England – https://www.chesterzoo.org/
This zoo has become more famous because of the fantastic job they have done with the television show. But it is the area just outside of the zoo that I am told has a great reserve, free to enter. The haven is home to kingfishers, hedgehogs and harvest mice with many reported sightings of otters and recently a fox. With new wetland habitats near the Shropshire Canal and diverse plants growing, this is a great addition not only for the zoo, but for Chester.
Twycross Zoo in England – https://twycrosszoo.org/visit-us/the-nature-reserve/
The Nature Reserve is designed to provide a safe and secure home for resident bats, birds, insects and small mammals to thrive and will likely reintroduce new species as nature takes its course.
British Wildlife Centre in England – https://britishwildlifecentre.co.uk/
Specializing in native wildlife they are quite proud of their Photography Days. So make use of the opportunity to get up close and personal with the animals.
Wildwood – https://wildwoodtrust.org/
Wildwood Trust opened in 1999 as a centre of excellence for the conservation of British wildlife. Near Canterbury, Wildwood is a wildlife park full of UK native species. Red squirrels, wolves, Scottish wild cats, beavers, badgers, otters and many more wonderful species.
I thought I might just quote this response in total. My German is extremely rusty and I doubt I could do the research as effectively as someone who might visit some of the suggested places. So, here it is:
“In Germany there are dozens of “wildparks”; large and natural looking parks with just (formerly) domestic wildlife like red deer, wild boar, foxes, etc. Enclosures are mostly large and naturally looking. One could easily take pictures there without anyone noticing they were not taken in the wild. There are actually too many to mention, but here are just a few: Wildpark Gangelt, Wildfreigehege Hellenthal. Wildpark Moritzburg, Wildpark Poing, Tierfreigehege Neuschönau (Often used by professional photographers to give courses), Wisentgehege Springe, Tierpark Sababurg. There are many, many more, however. Because of the presence of these parks regular zoos often do display very few Eurasian species. As a matter of facts, several of these zoos have their own wildgehege or are closely associated with one.”
Another one where I will let the response stand…
“We’ve got a pretty heavy focus on native wildlife here in New Zealand zoos. Similar in Australia, where I’m from originally. Even in the largest zoos, native fauna dominates at a guess up to half of these collections. Taronga, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Monarto, Werribee Open Range.
Specific exhibits to research would include Meet the Locals at Wellington, Te Wao Nui at Auckland and Platypus Pools at Taronga. The volcanic grasslands trail at Werribee is also good.
Hamilton Zoo has a huge native bird free flight aviary housing around 10 different species – The FreeFlight Sanctuary at Hamilton Zoo is New Zealand’s largest walk-through aviary. It has been extensively planted with native plants and houses many of New Zealand’s more unusual bird species, from the rare blue duck to the kaka.
Johannesburg Zoo – https://www.jhbcityparksandzoo.com/services-facilities/zoo/about
The Joburg Zoo has 80% African animals including all of the “Big Five” so perhaps a special section would be superfluous. But they are also proud of the many smaller local species throughout the zoo.
I hope this inspires you to visit some of these zoos, or to research which local animals your closest zoo has for you to research, study and learn as much as possible about before going out to photograph them in the wild.