By Alyx Sabina
The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden was recently nominated in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for 2023’s Best Zoo in the Nation.
With more than 500 different animal species and 1,700 animals, the Oklahoma City Zoo has a lot to offer.
“It’s an incredible honor to be nominated for this year’s 10Best awards,” said Dwight Lawson, zoo executive director and CEO in a press release. “Achieving accolades of this caliber would not be possible without the continuous support of all those who visit and care about the OKC Zoo and, of course, vote for us to achieve this top ranking.”
Breigha Hughes, film studies and digital media major, said she visits the zoo often. “The Oklahoma City Zoo does legitimately good work,” she said, “and I’m always happy to see Oklahoma City get positive recognition.”
Already a wildly popular tourist attraction, more than 1 million people visit the zoo every year. Once construction for the new African habitat expansion is finished, it is expected to draw even more visitors.
Construction on the Expedition Africa project started nearly a year ago and is expected to be completed in time for summer break. This is the largest expansion project since the zoo opened to the public more than 100 years ago.
“I cannot wait until the new African exhibit is open,” Hughes said. “It is such a major expansion, and I think it will be one of the most beloved parts of the zoo and will hopefully set the stage for even more fun exhibits in the future.”
Not only does the zoo continue to expand in size, the number of animals living at the zoo is increasing as well. In February, the zoo welcomed three new male cheetahs. Jabari, Hasani and Erindi will be housed in the expanded African habitat once it is ready.
“The Oklahoma City Zoo is one of the most expansive zoos around,” said Taylor Reich, former zoo employee. “It is so spread out, and with it being a botanical garden as well, I think it feels more open that way.”
A very unique aspect of the zoo is its flourishing botanical garden.
“I think one of the most overlooked parts of the zoo is the greenery,” Hughes said. “A lot of work is put into their botanical gardens, and it really lights up during the spring and summer.”
The mission of the Oklahoma City Zoo goes beyond housing the animals in its care. The zoo’s botanical garden was designed to “connect people with our plant collection through botanical opportunities that inspire and advance plant, animal and natural resource conservation.”
While the garden is full of beautiful plants and flowers, it is also used for educational purposes, to research special and exotic plants. With the zoo’s engaging wildlife, successful animal rehabilitation programs, new attractions and educational environment, the zoo is expected to flourish for years to come.
Voting for the Readers’ Choice Awards ended March 6, and the winners will be announced Friday, March 17.
Elephants parade through the OKC Zoo enclosure. (Photo by Alyx Sabina)