Child examining a map at the zoo in Charlotte. Child examining a map at the zoo in Charlotte.

Explore the Best Wildlife Zoos in Charlotte

Charlotte, North Carolina is a city with a lot of notoriety. It is a mecca of thrilling NASCAR auto racing and a sophisticated city with numerous stately neighborhoods, notable museums and memorable restaurants.

In addition to that, they also have great outing spots for visitors, from the Carolina Raptor Center to the Lazy 5 Ranch Zoo in Charlotte. Just a few miles away, you can also find the North Carolina Zoo, the world’s largest natural habitat zoo.

1. The Best Zoos And Aquariums In And Around Charlotte

1.1. The North Carolina Zoo

North Carolina is home to the largest natural habitat zoo in the world; Head down to Ashebor today and check out the North Carolina Zoo. The Zoo is 90 miles from Charlotte; It is a perfect weekend getaway for families.

One of the notable key differences that distinguish it from most zoos is its size; it spans 2600 acres, making it one of the largest zoos globally.

The zoo is a family-friendly environment, allowing visitors to spend the entire day without having to leave. Both entrances have restaurants, and the food is reasonably priced.

The zoo also offers various experiences, such as special events for members like ‘Wake Up with the Zoo,’ where you can see the animals being fed. The ‘Zoo Trekker’ program also engages kids with monuments, statues, and conservationists.

1.1.1 The Attractions At North Carolina Zoo

The North Carolina Zoo takes you on tours around different continents for visitors to experience wildlife. With a vast forested region, expansive grasslands decorated with various herbs, as well as man-made lakes and rock formations, have been carefully designed to offer the animals habitats that suit their specific needs.

The zoo is expanding with the addition of Asia, scheduled to open in 2025, adding another 10 acres. The zoo’s diversity is another highlight, with sections dedicated to North America and Africa showcasing animals in their natural habitats. The upcoming Asia section will introduce animals like Komodo dragons, tigers, cranes, and more.

1.1.2. North America

The North American region opened in 1994, which started with three polar bear siblings arriving, creating a statewide buzz. Over the years, it recruited black bears, red wolves and hundreds of other animals in this diverse region.

The region takes you to places like the great prairies of the American Midwest, where visitors can experience the short-grass prairie, complete with a herd of bison and elk that can be viewed from four overlooks. Animals within this vicinity are American Bison and Elk (Wapiti).

Cypress swamps that house a diverse range of animals. Visitors can see cougars, ducks, alligators, turtles, frogs, and snakes coexisting in this habitat.

Another fascinating habitat within the North American region is the Carolina Stream, which showcases a variety of animals along its banks. Barred Owl, Bobcat, Copperhead snake coiled, North American river otter, Timber Rattlesnake, and Longnose Gar are showcased in the stream.

The region also features a marsh habitat, where Guests may encounter numerous birds, insects, beavers, muskrats, water snakes, and frogs, depending on their visit.

Lastly, there is the Rocky Coast, which offers a glimpse into the wonders of the Arctic. It provides underwater viewing opportunities, allowing guests to get up close and personal with incredible animals like Arctic Foxes, Polar bears, and Horned puffins.

1.1.3. Africa

The Africa region began its construction in the spring of 1976, with the groundbreaking ceremony. The grand opening of the initial five habitats occurred in the summer of 1980. Presently, it includes a diverse range of habitats, featuring chimpanzees, giraffes, gorillas, zebras, and, naturally, elephants.

No visit is complete without seeing the king of the jungle. The exhibit showcases the majestic lions in their natural setting. Visitors can also find Western lowland gorillas, where you can get up close with these great apes at two viewing windows.

The Watani Grasslands Habitat area has large herds of elephants, rhinos, antelope, and gazelles. This habitat is spacious with a 40-acre space where animals are free to graze on the plants.

The Giraffe and Zebra Habitat is located at the edge of the forest, where guests can observe these magnificent animals from four different viewing areas.

At the Forest Edge habitat, visitors can witness the beauty of giraffes and zebras in their natural habitat. With four distinct viewing areas, the 3.5-acre habitat is designed to resemble the lightly wooded savannas of Kenya.

Other notable animals in this region include the Red-ruffed Lemur, Baboons and Red River Hog.

1.1.4. The Desert Habitat

The Desert is an architectural beauty featuring a glass dome that encapsulates a lively and dry desert environment. Guests can stroll amidst various free-flying birds, and majestic saguaro cacti, and observe the swift roadrunners as they dash across the landscape.

You can encounter various desert species like Blue-tongued Skink, Desert pupfish, Desert tortoise, Gila Monster, Ocelot, Vampire Bat, Spiny-tailed Monitor, Ornate Uromastyx, Mexican beaded lizard, Beaded Lizard, Sidewinder snake, Laughing Kookaburra, Camels, African Pancake Tortoise, and Crested Coua.

1.2. Carolina Raptor Center

 The Raptor Center is located inside the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve and is hard to miss from the road. Explore the Raptor Trail, a 3/4 mile pathway showcasing more than 30 species of raptors and other magnificent birds of prey.

Engage yourself in this thrilling family-friendly adventure as you witness the awe-inspiring presence of a nesting pair of Bald Eagles residing in the Eagle Aviary. One of the hidden gems is the Raptor Hospital, where approximately 900 Raptor patients are treated annually.

Suppose you are unable to get tickets to embark on the behind-the-scenes tour. In that case, there is another option, as the display “A Day in the Life of a Raptor Hospital” will provide a comprehensive glimpse into the daily activities that unfold within its walls, both during the day and throughout the night.

The Carolina Raptor Center is home to a wide range of prey birds, including eagles, falcons, ospreys, owls, hawks, and vultures.

This establishment is committed to the rehabilitation, research, and conservation of these magnificent creatures, while also aiming to educate the public about raptors.

1.3. Zootastic Park Exotic Animals

At Zootastic Park, you will see a large variety of animals, from kangaroos to large cats and primates. The walk-around section contains most of the exotic animals such as tigers, lions, giraffes, kangaroos, monkeys and more.

The drive-thru section is home to hoof stock animals such as Watusi, water buffalo, eland, blackbuck, zebra, emus and more. Both sections of the zoo are included with the ticket admission.

The zoo also hosts field trips which consist of Educational Zoo movies, walks through the Zoo, Time in the Barnyard with the Petting Zoo, Picnic tables and wagon Rides, To arrange the trip, you must have a group of 20 people.

1.4. SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord

SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord is situated inside the Concord Mills Mall, it is an indoor aquarium which was built especially to cater for kids ages 3-12.

The Aquarium has over 5,000 creatures which includes fishes like sharks, rays, seahorses and more in our 10 zones. The tour lets you travel from the fresh waters of the Catawba River in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the salt waters of the Atlantic Ocean and beyond in about an hour, in an intimate environment.

They are the Charlotte area’s only full-time aquarium and are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

At the Interactive Touchpool expose, you can touch a variety of live animals which includes sea stars, sea urchins, hermit crabs, and more. And if the kids are tired, The Aquarium have a soft play area for them to relax and rest.

1.5. Lazy 5 Ranch

Lazy 5 Range is a safari-style adventurous car ride through with 3.5 miles of road on 185 acres. With over 750 exotic animals from six continents experiencing the ultimate up-close and personal with these beautiful creatures, you can also opt for the horse-drawn wagon ride for a true up-close experience.

The ranch comprises Birds, Ducks, Cattle, Deer, Elk, Antelope, Sheep, and Goats. Additionally, the ranch is dedicated to safeguarding and rehabilitating various endangered species like Grevy Zebra, Scimitar Horned Oryx, and Ring-tailed Lemurs.

Walk-through areas feature additional zoo exhibits, petting areas, a playground, a picnic area, a gift shop and snacks. Admission to the ranch is cash only.

1.6. The Riverbanks Zoo And Botanical Garden

With home to nearly 2,000 animals representing over 350 species from all corners of the globe, Riverbanks Zoo is a remarkable destination for anyone.

This Charlotte zoo takes you on thrilling experiences, ranging from a fun and captivating diving expedition in the Pacific coral reef to an exhilarating safari across the African plains, and even an interactive encounter with a sociable flock of lorikeets in the Outback.

Spread across 70 acres, the Botanical Garden within the zoo is truly a must-visit, widely regarded as one of the finest public gardens in America. The garden is a dramatic and themed garden that showcases an impressive collection of more than 4,300 native and exotic plants. Whether you have a green thumb or not, this living classroom provides a captivating experience for all.

The Botanical Garden is a gateway to breathtaking natural river views and awe-inspiring valley overlooks. Explore and you will have the opportunity to witness history with the leftover structures dating back to the early 1800s, offering a glimpse into South Carolina’s textile industry and the impact of the Civil War.

Riverbanks Zoo community also works with various organisations to preserve and conserve earth biodiversity both locally as well as globally. Projects like the AZA Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project, Going Green, Raptors and Endangered Species, and Satch Krantz Conservation Fund are some of the few that the zoo is working on.

1.7. Darby Acres Farm

This family-run farm petting zoo was started by Dwayne and Jennifer, who named the zoo after their daughter, Darby.

Darby Acres Farm offers a wide range of friendly and unique farm animals that can be brought to various types of events, including birthday parties, churches, nursing homes, corporate events, fundraisers, and schools from pre-school to college.

With Darby Acres Farm, any event becomes an exciting time for both children and adults, providing many different Traveling Petting Zoo Packages that are suitable for any kind of event, such as birthday parties, church events, nursing homes, corporate events, fundraisers, and schools from pre-school to college.

In addition, they offer horseback riding and facility rental for various events. If you prefer, you can also visit the farm and enjoy pony rides or explore the Darby Safari. The farm operates by appointment only, and visits to the private property require prearranged appointments or reservations.

1.8. Tiger World Center For Endangered Species

Explore Tiger World Endangered Wildlife Preserve, a nonprofit animal conservation and education center devoted to the rescue, rehabilitation and preservation of exotic animals.

Founded in 2007, the establishment at 4400 Cook Rd Rockwell has been committed to the conservation and education of all threatened and endangered species.

Guided and walkabout self-guided tours allow visitors to explore the preserve, learning about each animal and providing an individual hands-on experience. You can view the animals in their natural setting and have the opportunity to observe them interacting with their dedicated handlers.

The intimate setting is a great place to bring your family to learn about wild animals up close and personal. They have bears, bobcats, cougars, kangaroos, leopards, lemurs, ligers, lions, lynx, monkeys, reptiles, spiders, tigers, wolves and more. You will find the large cats in their expansive enclosures, reptiles in the reptile house, peacocks roaming free and more.

2. Conclusion

Some of these attractions are operational farms and ranches, allowing visitors to witness agricultural activities firsthand. Others are privately owned zoos or aquariums, showcasing diverse animal species.

Some of those establishments open during the season, so before planning your visit, it is essential to gather information about the venue.

The Charlotte Zoo offers many animal-focused attractions for you to choose from, whether you want to pet wallabies, feed zebras from a safari vehicle or help rehabilitate threatened animals. You will find plenty of ways to interact with animals at these zoos and aquariums.

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