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Whether you enjoy meandering through a tropical wetland, watching elephants in their habitat or viewing the Houston Zoo Lights that shine annually from November to January, there's something for everyone at the second most visited zoo in the country.
To make sure you don’t miss the best things this zoological wonder has to offer, we've rounded up 16 must-see Houston Zoo exhibits and attractions. Keep reading for all the details.
South America's Pantanal
Escape to Brazil without ever leaving the Houston Zoo. South America's Pantanal , the world's largest tropical wetland, is brought to life on 4.2 acres of zoo land, and highlights animals the zoo is helping to protect in the wild like giant anteaters and tapirs. When you enter this immersive exhibit, you'll see rustic buildings similar to ecolodges that sit alongside rivers in the real Pantanal region along with more than 51 unique animal species who call this wetland home.
Wortham World of Primates
Lemurs, orangutans and tamarinsterrapins are among the animals residing in the Wortham World of Primates. As you stroll down a winding boardwalk, you'll have access to viewing endangered, rare primates like Max and Murray, two white-cheeked gibbons.
Carruth Natural Encounters
Meerkats and monkeys and piranhas, oh my! When you walk into this exhibit, you're entering a continent's vast animal kingdom underneath an air-conditioned roof. Be prepared to be mesmerized as waterfalls extend into pools and the likely chance to see animals at every angle including moon jellies (jellyfish), Asian small-clawed otters and naked mole rats.
John C. McGovern Children's Zoo
Want to explore a realistic bat cave or watch a river otter frolic underwater? You and your youngest zoologists can spot them here, along with bald eagles, toads, foxes, porcupines and goats.
Kathrine McGovern Water Play Park
Open daily from April 1 through September 15 (though currently closed through the summer for maintenance repairs), the Water Play Park is included with your Houston Zoo admission. The awesome park, located near the Medical Center Entrance (near the carousel), boasts more than 13,500 square feet of fun including a "fill-and-spill" water tree, fountains, jets and misters. Proper swimwear is required and private changing stalls are nearby.
McNair Elephant Habitat Area
Eight elephants live in this area which includes a naturalistic habitat with a huge 160,000-gallon pool and 7,000-square-foot barn. You may even catch a glimpse of Tilly, one of the newest members of the family. (The newborn calf weighed merely 345 pounds at birth.) Want to watch the elephants from home? Catch the powerful pachyderms on the zoo's webcam between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT/CST).
Explore the Wild! Nature Play Area
When your little ones need to take a break from the stroller, head to this fun nature play area where they can climb on a rock wall, dig in mud pits and create castles with sand. It’s the perfect place to run around and get the wiggles out.
Meander down a path into a village trading outpost, past small huts and a fire pit, to reach the zoo’s African Forest. From conservation success stories of the southern white rhinoceros to Grant's zebra (the smallest subspecies of zebra) to chimpanzees, ostriches and giraffes, this exhibit is a must-see for all ages.
Giraffe Feeding Platform
Who doesn't want to get up close and personal with giraffes? Interact with the Masai giraffe family at the zoo’s feeding platform by offering crunchy lettuce treats to your new friends. Giraffe feedings occur daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Reptile and Amphibian House
From a yellow frog (also known as the Panamanian golden frog), to a king cobra, to lizards and newts, some of the world's most venomous snakes and amphibians can be found in this house.
Sea Lion Habitat
Near the zoo's front entrance, you can't miss the sea lion habitat. Watch as the marine mammals splash around in their pool or lounge on their private beach. Check the daily schedule when you arrive, so you can catch a sea lion show.
The Houston Zoo is home to one of the largest collections of birds of any U.S. zoo with more than 200 species and 800 birds. Three main bird exhibits encompass the collection: Fischer Bird Garden, the Tropical Bird House and Birds of the World. The rare St. Vincent Island Amazon parrot, Micronesian kingfisher (the zoo raises them behind the scenes to save the species from extinction) and pink Chilean flamingos are among the notable birds to look out for. Can't make it to the zoo? Watch the flamingos in their habitat between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (CT/CST) on their own dedicated webcam .
No trip to the Houston Zoo would be complete without a ride on the carousel, and many of the animals featured on the carousel live in the zoo. Carousel tickets cost $4 each, but for $4.95 you can get unlimited rides plus a conservation bracelet. (Children under 42 inches tall must be accompanied by an adult for safety, but the adult is not required to buy a ticket.)
Kathrine G. McGovern Texas Wetlands
Another must-do excursion to the wetlands within the zoo involves a trip to the Kathrine G. McGovern Texas Wetlands. Three native Texas species—bald eagles, whooping cranes and American alligators—meander in this lush wetland habitat. Previously nearing extinction, each species now thrives in Texas.
Houston Zoo Lights
Although the festive Zoo Lights are only available from November through January, the attraction is among one of Houston's top holiday traditions. Enjoy animal-themed lanterns and thousands of glowing flowers with oak trees ensconced by winter lights and see guaranteed "snow" in Texas amidst this winter wonderland.
Is a trip to the zoo really complete without a visit to the bug house? Insects and spiders are important parts of the Texas environment since they act as pest control and pollinate fruits and vegetables. Check out these tiny creatures and learn how the zoo works behind the scenes to feed, breed and house all of its insects and arachnids.
Houston Zoo houstonzoo.org
Hours : 9 a.m.-5 p.m., daily; the last entry is at 4 p.m.
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