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Mississippi River Country’s best zoos & wildlife centers

From Minnesota’s International Wolf Center to the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, these zoos & wildlife centers can’t be missed.

Milwaukee County Zoo
Milwaukee County Zoo (Credit: Travel Wisconsin)

Mississippi River Country has its own wildlife at which to marvel, but it’s also home to truly wonderful and educational zoos that house unique animals from around the world. Here’s a look at some of the zoos and wildlife centers you should add to your itinerary.

North

International Wolf Center, Minnesota

In the far northern Minnesota town of Ely, you’ll find an organization dedicated to maintaining healthy wolf populations in North America and worldwide. The International Wolf Center is a research and educational organization, but it also operates an interpretive center that’s open to the public where visitors can see captive “ambassador wolves” in their natural surroundings, as well as learn about wolves through a variety of exhibits and educational programs.

Milwaukee County Zoo, Wisconsin

Located a few minutes west of downtown Milwaukee (at the appropriately named “Zoo Interchange” of Interstate 94 and Interstate 41), the Milwaukee County Zoo covers nearly 200 acres (81 hectares) and features 1,800 animals. The zoo is home to two cheetahs from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and houses one of the largest groups of bonobos outside their native Africa.

Brookfield Zoo, Illinois

Situated in Chicago’s southwestern suburbs, Brookfield Zoo is operated by the Chicago Zoological Society and houses more than 400 species of animals. Among the zoo’s well-known exhibits are the Clouded Leopard Rain Forest (featuring the eponymous clouded leopard as well as the fishing cat, binturong and more), the Big Cats exhibit (which includes an African lion, Amur leopard, Amur tiger and snow leopard) and the Pachyderm House (home to pygmy hippos, tapirs and rhinos).

Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri

This free zoo is located in St. Louis’ historic Forest Park, where other great free attractions like the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Missouri History Museum are also located. The Saint Louis Zoo is open year-round, and more than 650 species call the place home, including red pandas, primates, hippos and more.

South

Memphis Zoo, Tennessee

This family-friendly attraction in Memphis’ Midtown neighborhood has called Overton Park home for more than a century and still welcomes throngs of animal-loving guests through the gates today. Star attractions at the zoo include giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le; grizzly bears, elk, and timberwolves in the zoo’s Teton Trek area; and the African animals featured in the Zambezi River Hippo Camp.

Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari, Arkansas

Head to far northwestern Arkansas to find this 400-acre (160 hectare) site that’s home to dozens of animals, including leopards, cougars, wolves, water buffalo, camels and zebras. The park, which is open from 9am to 4pm daily (including holidays), takes motorists on a 4-mile (6.5km) trek through the property, which also has a walk-through area and petting zoo.

Hattiesburg Zoo, Mississippi

This charming zoo in the university town of Hattiesburg (home to the University of Southern Mississippi) has been welcoming visitors since 1950. In addition to unique animals like the white-nosed coatimundi and the Von der Decken’s hornbill, the zoo also has an African petting zoo, a “wallaby walkout” experience and a ropes course.

Audubon Nature Institute, Louisiana

Located in Audubon Park along the Mississippi River in southwestern New Orleans, this complex is home to the Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, as well as the Audubon Park Golf Course. The zoo takes visitors through several global habitats, including the Louisiana Swamp, the Jaguar Jungle, the South American Pampas and the African Savanna.

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