Located in Omaha, Nebraska, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is one of the largest and most acclaimed wildlife facilities in the world. Nationally renowned for its commitment to research and conservation, it has been ranked as the top international zoo by major publications such as Family Fun magazine and TripAdvisor.
Henry Doorly Zoo’s origins date back to 1984, when the City of Omaha established the facility as the public Riverview Park Zoo. Throughout the early 20th century, the zoo’s animal population and attendance grew steadily, meriting the creation of the Omaha Zoological Society in 1952 to help with the city’s management. In 1963, the zoo was renamed to its current name in honor of a $750,000 donation by Margaret Hitchcock Doorly, widow of the late Henry Doorly, the chairman of the World Publishing Company. As part of the renovations that followed Doorly’s donation, the Omaha Zoological Society was reorganized as a nonprofit organization, which now operates and maintains the Zoo for the city. As of 1986, its mission is to establish and promote recreational and educational activities and programs to raise awareness of the natural world for Omaha citizens, as well as overseeing conservation and research programs to protect wild animals, plants, and ecosystems.
The zoo is Nebraska’s top paid attraction, host to more than 25 million visitors since its 1963 revamping.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
More than 130 acres of permanent exhibits are on display at the zoo, including seven acres of indoor exhibits. Many of the zoo’s exhibits are the largest of their kind in the world.
The Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Pavilion serves as an entrance and introduction point for visitors, recently remodeled into an Exploration Station mimicking a safari trailhead. Exhibits detail the history of the zoo, and a stage area presents daily demonstrations with handlers, allowing visitors to meet the zoo’s animals in an up-close and personal setting.
Opened in 1992, the Lied Jungle is the largest indoor rainforest exhibit in America. Occupying one and a half acres, the jungle building stretches eight stories high and features 61,000 square feet of exhibit space. It is split into three main areas, with animals divided by geographic region. In the Asian rainforest, visitors can walk a swaying suspension bridge to a nocturnal cave featuring animals such as Malayan tapir, smallclawed otters, silvery leaf monkeys, and ebony langurs. The African section allows visitors to observe spotted-neck otters and pygmy hippos from above at the jungle’s canopy or eye-to-eye in an underwater viewing cave. The highlight of the South American forest is a 50-foot waterfall, which visitors can walk behind to observe spider, capuchin, and black howler monkeys. The rainforest building is also home to the zoo’s education center and the Durham TreeTops Restaurant, providing impressive views of the exhibit with its 90-foot floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium contains 1.2 million gallons of water, with a variety of tanks featuring aquatic life from around the world. The popular 70-foot Shark Reef tunnel takes visitors 17 feet below the water to experience life on the ocean floor, as sand tiger sharks, zebra sharks and sting rays swim overhead. Other exhibits include a tidepool touch tank, a jellyfish exhibit, and tanks dedicated to aquatic habitats around the world, including cold Pacific waters, tropical beaches, and the waters of the Amazon rainforest.
The Desert Dome habitat is housed inside the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome, measuring 137 feet high and 230 feet in diameter. At 42,000 square feet, the exhibit is one of the largest desert habitat recreations in the world, housing animal and plant life from south Africa’s Namib Desert, Australia’s Red Center, and the southwest United States’ Sonoran Desert. Underneath the dome, Kingdoms of the Night is the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, featuring wet and dry cave, canyon, forest, and swamp areas. Of note is the swamp’s alligator exhibit, which features one of only 15 albino alligators on display in the world.
The zoo’s former Owen Gorilla House was revamped in 2004, expanding the facility into the Hubbard Gorilla Valley, a three-acre free-roaming site for species such as Mantled guerezas, Western lowland gorillas, and Wolf's mona monkeys. Nearby, the Hubbard Orangutan Forest features large outdoor and indoor habitats for orangutans and gibbons, with man-made Banyan trees and a 20-foot waterfall, and the 300-foot Expedition Madagascar building houses a variety of lemur species, along with giant jumping rats, fruit bats, and other animals and plants native to the area.
Two new exhibits are part of the zoo’s current ongoing renovation project. The 28-acre African Grasslands is the largest project in the zoo’s history, with exhibits dedicated to African lions, Sable antelope, giraffes, elephants, Bongos, pygmy goats, pelicans, and cheetahs, along with a safari tent camp for overnight tour opportunities. The Alaskan Adventure water playground features over 75 bronze sculptures by Nebraska artist Matthew Placzek, providing education on aquatic species such as the humpback whale and orca.
Other exhibits and pavilions include the Simmons Aviary, the Berniece Grewcock Butterfly and Insect Pavilion, Durham’s Bear Canyon, the Owen Sea Lion Pavilion, and a Cat Complex. Additionally, the Lozier IMAX Theater offers showings of nature films, and several rides, including the Omaha’s Zoo Railroad and the Skyfari ski-lift ride, transport visitors around the park’s grounds.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research is dedicated to world-class scientific investigation, focusing on the areas of molecular genetics, reproductive physiology, plant micro propagation and conservation medicine. Of note are the museum’s gorilla reproductive research programs, which contain the largest gorilla sperm bank in the world and have produced the world’s only successful in vitro fertilization specimen. The zoo is also committed to sustainability, with several facilities powered or partially powered by solar energy and other reusable fuel sources.
3701 S. 10th Street, Omaha, NE 68107, Phone: 402-733-8401