New York City has five zoos in all — or one per borough — along with one extraordinary aquarium. With the exception of the Staten Island Zoo, the wildlife centers listed below are managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which supports and promotes conservation efforts around the world. A WCS membership gets you into its zoos and aquarium for free—a great investment if you plan on being a frequent guest. Read on for the info you’ll need to plan your visit and details about the wildlife you’ll see. By Jessica Allen.
The Bronx Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the United States, boasting more than 600 species of animals, from alligators to Asian elephants to anacondas. Here you can visit tapirs and langur monkeys at “Jungleworld,” then head over to visit baby lemurs at “Madagascar!”, with a quick stopover to see what the giraffes, baboons, hyrax, and ibex are up to. And, yes, there are also lions, tigers, and bears—oh my! If you go, plan to spend all day roaming around. Open 365 days a year, from 10 am to 5 pm (weekdays) and 5:30 pm (weekends).
As if Central Park could be any more delightful, it has two zoos nestled along its east side. The Central Park Wildlife Center is tiny but mighty, with a two-story enclosure for grizzly bears, a “Polar Circle” with tons of penguins, and a “Tropic Zone” where exotic birds, — including parrots, Victoria crowned pigeons and peacocks — flap around and among visitors. The sea lions are perennial favorites (and total showboats). A few steps north, the Tisch Children’s Zoo features friendly goats, pigs, and even a Patagonian cavy. Open 365 days a year, from 10 am to 5 pm (weekdays) and 5:30 pm (weekends).
Badly damaged during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the New York Aquarium is nevertheless still open, even as it rebuilds and retools its exhibits. You can watch penguins frolic, sea otters play, and walruses get fed; see an interactive show at the Aquatheater; be hypnotized by the fluid movements of the green moray eel; or stare as deep as you dare into the flat eyes of a sand tiger shark or the puppy-dog-like mien of a harbor seal. Take advantage of the aquarium’s proximity to Coney Island by punctuating your visit with a swim or a hotdog. Open 365 days a year, from 10 am to 4:30 pm.
Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park has an equally impressive zoo. The Prospect Park Zoo features more than 600 animals on 12 acres. The “Hall of Animals,” for example, puts the spotlight on such little guys as the dart frog, fennec fox, and pygmy slow loris, while the “Barn and Garden” exhibition lets kids get up close and personal with such furry friends as Juliana pigs and alpacas. On Saturdays and Sundays, you can hang out at the Discovery Center, which helps foster the spirit of conservation in children through interactive activities. Open 365 days a year, from 10 am to 5 pm (weekdays) and 5:30 pm (weekends).
The Queens Zoo has a particular focus on species native to the Americas, including coyotes, Andean bears, American bison, southern pudu, bald eagles, and Canadian lynx. The zoo opened in 1968 — on the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. The little ones in your life will enjoy banging around the bird-themed “Migration Challenge” playground and fact-filled “Endangered Species” climbing wall. Open 365 days a year, from 10 am to 5 pm (weekdays) and 5:30 pm (weekends).
Perhaps the Staten Island Zoo’s most famous resident is Charles G. Hogg (aka Chuck), the city’s official groundhog meteorologist, who predicts whether we’re in for more winter every February 2. But other creatures and critters worth visiting at this small zoo include the capybara, the Patagonian cavy, several species of tortoise, and several species of rattlesnakes. Make sure to stop by the Conservation Carousel, where kids can ride 25 (inanimate) animals from around the world. Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day, but open all other days from 10 am to 4:45 pm.