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Another attraction is the overhead Orangutan Transport System, 400-foot-long cables that allow orangutans to swing above you on their way to and from the Think Tank, where the apes use touch-screen computers while scientists measure their comprehension skills.
A full-fledged research center, the National Zoo also breeds a colony of golden lion tamarins (read: fuzzy orange monkeys).
Members of this band are among the few zoo-bred animals ever to have been successfully released into the wild—in this case, Brazil's endangered Atlantic rain forest.202/673-4800; free.
Visiting the largest urban zoo in America—with more than 6,000 animals spread across 265 acres—definitely calls for a daylong picnic plan.
Our fragile world takes on new beauty inside the Butterfly Zone, opening in May, where visitors can mix with a blizzard of multihued insects.
Hint: If you wear bright colors they're more likely to land on you.718/367-1010; .75 adults, kids 212.
Perhaps the best place to view animals without trekking into the wilderness, the Zoological Society of San Diego is actually a zoo and a park, each worth its own day trip.
The San Diego Zoo comprises 100 acres of tropical grounds and 800 species (including a pair of pandas on loan from China).
It's no wonder that the indoor exhibitions here are as extensive as the outdoor ones, given that in winter no living creatures except polar bears would be caught outside.This garden of cactus, grassland, and mountain woodland is adjacent to Saguaro National Park West in Tucson, so the animals at this "museum" actually inhabit the surrounding ecosystem.You'll find javelinas, bighorn sheep, butterflies, Colorado River squawfish, beavers, Gila monsters, rattlesnakes, owls, and prairie dogs.If your kids are into giant, goat-eating lizards—and whose aren't?—then the National Zoo's Reptile Discovery Center is for them.
One hundred years ago, America's first zoos were built in Philadelphia and New York, with extra-thick bars to assure the public that wild lions, elephants, and camels would not escape and attack.