Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo — in January

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Visiting a zoo 2 ½ hours away in the middle of winter is kind of a risky thing. How cold will it be? Will it snow? Will exhibits be closed?

We took the risk yesterday and went to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and nothing bad happened unless you count being a little cold dashing between buildings. This zoo is very easy to visit in the winter.

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The first place we went was by far the warmest: the hot, humid Lied Jungle. I remember when it opened in 1992, and I think this exhibition really put the Omaha zoo on the map. It’s said to be America’s largest indoor rainforest and one of the largest anywhere in the world. The jungle is home to monkeys, a pygmy hippo, macaws and other birds, snakes, and other animals. The rainforest represents plants and animals from South America, Asia, and Africa. With rope bridges, huge plants, a jungle floor, and waterfalls, this place all by itself is worth the price of admission.

Next we went to the Lozier IMAX Theater to see the Rocky Mountain Express, a film that tells the story of building the Canadian Pacific Railway (completed in 1885) and shows the beauty and power of the massive Canadian Rockies. (Other films now showing are Penguins and Kenya Animal Kingdom.)

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From the theater, we scooted over to the Desert Dome – both the world’s largest indoor desert and the largest glazed geodesic dome. The dome houses a fair number of birds, mammals, and reptiles, and it’s a sunny place to be in January.

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Beneath the dome is the wonderful Kingdoms of the Night, which opened in 2003, about a year after the completion of the dome. Kingdoms is the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit (the zoo seems to be big on “largest-in-the-world” exhibits), and it’s one of my favorite places at the zoo. I’m terrified of real caves, but I love the simulated cave exhibit with lots of active bats. There’s also a terrific swamp exhibit (I’m sure it’s the biggest one in the world), with active beavers, alligators, and bullfrogs. There’s even an albino alligator on loan from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

Not far from the Desert Dome is an elevator that takes you to the lower level of the zoo – a warmer and less strenuous way to get there for sure. We walked through Gorilla Valley and out the other side to Expedition Madagascar, which I’d never visited before. Opened May 2010, the indoor exhibit features many species of animals endemic to that country: ringtailed lemurs, birds, fish, reptiles, and small mammals. This exhibition is not hold the knock-your-socks-off appeal of the Lied Jungle nor the Desert Dome, but it’s well done.

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From Madagascar, we went to another of my favorite places at the zoo: the Scott Aquarium, with its amazing sea turtles, rays, sharks, penguins, coral reefs, and more. Of all the places we visited at the zoo, this was the only one that felt a tiny bit crowded. But, of course, it’s nothing like visiting in July.

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If you go to the Omaha zoo now through March, admission is $13.50 for adults and $9.00 for kids (a discount from the peak season admission). We paid $18 each to get a zoo/Lozier IMAX Theatre combo ticket.

Of course, there are lots of animals we didn’t get around to seeing: polar bears, big cats, elephants, giraffes, etc. The “outdoor” animals are better viewed when it’s a bit warmer outside.

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1 comment so far

  1. Sara on

    The zoo is great to visit in the winter! And you are correct on a lot of the indoor exhibits being the largest. Just an FYI – one of the elephants passed away roughly a year ago. Since elephants are pack animals, the other elephant got moved to another zoo so that he would have friends. Thanks for the review of our awesome zoo!


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