All of that comes together to make what is, in my opinion, one of the very best zoos in the country. Certainly one of the more unique zoos you could visit.
The zoo is far too big for me to talk about every animal (as much as I might like to), so I'll just highlight the zoo's eight best areas and exhibits. Conveniently arranged for those of you with short attention spans with my favorites first!
The Desert Dome
Just like a real desert, the inside of the dome is hot and dry - it is kept at a temperature of 72-75 degrees year round. The glass in the dome is even designed to help maintain the temperature - the glass panels near the top are more heavily tinted to reduce the heat of the summer sun, while the lower panels are more translucent to better take in the heat of the winter sun. Clever! There is even an intricate guttering system that collects rainwater, which is then used to water the plants inside.
The terrain inside is very believable desert terrain, with rocky outcrops, sand dunes, and cacti and other desert plants. Combined with the temperature it really does make you feel like you've entered a desert. The dome exhibits animals native to three different deserts around the world - The Namib desert in southwestern Africa, the Australian desert, and the Sonoran desert of the southwestern US.
Kingdoms of the Night
The Lied Jungle
The Butterfly and Insect Pavilion
As with the zoo's other walkthrough exhibits, make sure you look around for hidden animals! In addition to butterflies, the greenhouse is also home to a few bird species, including hummingbirds!
After this room, you enter another greenhouse that is dedicated to other insects and arachnids, including grasshoppers, katydids, cockroaches, centipedes, ants, walking sticks, and some huge tarantulas.
The Scott Aquarium
The aquarium is pretty big, and houses a wide variety of animals, including sharks, stingrays, octopus, eels, penguins, murres, auks, a large jellyfish area, and many different types of fish.
The first exhibit you see when you enter is a large "C"-shaped tank filled with pompano fish. You can stand in the middle of the exhibit and watch the pompano swim in a big arc around you against this bright blue backdrop.
The Cat Complex
Other Notable Exhibits
I'll just list a few of the other highlights of the zoo:
-The Durham Bear Canyon exhibits black bears, polar bears, sun bears, and Andean bears, and contains little passageways so that you can view the bears from many different angles.
-If you have kids (or even if you don't), the children's area is pretty good. In addition to the standard petting zoo, they've got prairie dogs, otters, African wild dogs, and budgies (a type of parakeet)
-There is also a large lagoon with an island in the middle of it, which is home to several more species of monkeys.
-The zoo has a great giraffe exhibit, including an accessible indoor barn, so even if it's too cold for the giraffes to be outside, you can still see them.
-Right next door to the giraffes is a small outdoor exhibit of warm-water African penguins
-The zoo is also home to a flock of peacocks, which roam freely along the paths, so you might encounter them anywhere.
The future of the Omaha Zoo
They're going to be keeping: the Lied Jungle, the desert dome, the aquarium, the butterfly house, the aviary, Madagascar, gorillas, orangutans, and the monkey lagoon. And those are all great exhibits so why mess with them?
They're going to be greatly expanding and redesigning the outdated hoofstock areas: giraffe, rhino, elephant, and the various types of antelopes.
They will then be creating new region-themed areas: African Grasslands, Equitorial Africa, Andean Foothills, Asian Highlands, Coastal Shores, and a new Adventure Education area for kids. The current cat complex, bear canyon, sea lion pool, and children's area will all be eliminated to make room for the new exhibits, and the animals from those exhibits will be relocated to their appropriate region.
Seriously, check it out. They've got maps and sketches and everything to show you what it's all going to look like. Omaha already has one of the best zoos in the country, and it's going to be getting even better. I can't wait to come back and see all this new stuff!