Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium has won a popularity contest.
Reviews by visitors to TripAdvisor, the world's largest travel website, have earned the Omaha attraction a No. 1 ranking. The website announced its list of the top 10 zoos in the country Wednesday.
Dennis Pate, CEO and director of the zoo, said he was a little surprised by Wednesday's news but feels the zoo employees deserve it.
“It's so nice because the whole staff has worked so hard to keep the zoo at its best, and then this comes out of the blue,” he said.
Although the ranking is pretty much a popularity contest, he said, it is gratifying that so many people think highly of the zoo.
“It really reflects the great time people have here,” Pate said. “Nebraskans really love their zoo and they're not bashful about saying so.”
Last year, the flooding problems held back zoo attendance. No such problem this year.
“Attendance is borderline on spectacular so far,” he said.
The weather has cooperated and most of the construction is done until after Labor Day. There is a remodeled aquarium and a refreshed children's area by the barn with new animals, a new dig site and more seating for parents. The baby giraffe is out more and “runs like a racehorse.”
In fact, the only problems the zoo is having now are “good problems,” such as figuring out how to get more people through the entrance gates faster, parking, and having the custodial crew work nights so everything is ready for the first visitors each morning.
“We've tried to make the zoo increasingly interactive,” Pate said. “Also, one of the big selling points is you can see so many animals within 200 yards of the entrances.”
In the TripAdvisor ranking, the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium topped such well-known zoos as the St. Louis Zoo (2), the Memphis Zoo (5) and the San Diego Zoo (6). Its Desert Dome and Lied Jungle were cited as two of the reasons for the No. 1 ranking.
Other zoos in the top 10 are Cape May County Park and Zoo in New Jersey (3), Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Columbia, S.C. (4), Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan. (7), the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Fla. (8), the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs (9) and the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans (10).
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