Travel

16 Extremely Rare Animals, and the US Zoos Where You Can See Them

Published On 07/22/2016 Published On 07/22/2016
White Alligator
Courtesy of Audobon Nature Institute

Just a thought here, but you know what might be cooler than looking for insanely rare cartoon "animals" on your cellphone? Walking through your local zoo or aquarium and seeing some actual, living animals that are among the rarest in the world. Though you might not bother reading the fine print on those signs in front of the frog terrarium, there are some animals in US zoos that number fewer than 1,000 worldwide. And which are the only members of their species in North America. With numbers like that, you literally can catch 'em all.

We asked our friends at several zoos around the country for their input. Then worked with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a nonprofit organization that accredits zoos and aquariums, who geolocated some of world's rarest animals in US captivity. And while some of them can be seen in multiple zoos throughout North America, these are the best places to see blue lobsters, four-eyed turtles, and more.

White alligator

Audubon Nature Institute
New Orleans, Louisiana
It's thought that only about 15 out of 5 million alligators have this rare genetic condition that reduces the color pigmentation in their skin.

Calek/Shutterstock

Blue lobster

Shedd Aquarium
Chicago, Illinois
No point in looking for these critters at the $29.95 surf-and-turf buffet: only one in a million lobsters has this rare genetic mutation that produces high levels of protein and turns them blue.

MarclSchauer/Shutterstock

Okapi

Memphis Zoo
Memphis, Tennessee
This endangered species is native to the dense forests of the Congo, but because people poach them and destroy their habitat, they've become rare in the wild. Though striped like a zebra, it’s actually a smaller cousin to the giraffe.

Abeselom Zerit/Shutterstock

Red panda

St. Louis Zoo
St. Louis, Missouri
"Panda" is a bit of a misnomer here, since the animal was once classified as part of the raccoon family until DNA tests later found it had more in common with bears. Regardless of what you call it, there are fewer than 10,000 of these guys in the world, most of which live in the Himalayas and Southwest China.

vblinov/Shutterstock

Addax

The Living Desert
Palm Desert, California
A recent study found that as few as three of these migratory animals, also known as white antelopes, may still exist in the wild in their native Saharan desert. The Living Desert in Palm Desert has partnered with the Sahara Conservation Fund to reintroduce some into the wild. Addaxes born at the zoo are currently in a pre-release pen in Africa.

Eduard Kyslynskyy/Shutterstock

Amur tiger

Alaska Zoo
Anchorage, Alaska
Though only about 600 of this majestic big cat exist today, it's a considerable improvement over the 1940s, when only about 40 existed. This tiger native to Eastern Russia is also known as the Siberian tiger, and the larger males can be 10ft long and weigh upwards of 750lbs.

Flickr/Sussexbirder

Blue-crowned laughingthrush

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
Columbia, South Carolina
This Chinese bird species, once thought to be extinct, has made a comeback since being rediscovered. Still, only about 300 exist in the wild.

Nature Travel Landscapes/Shutterstock

Borneo elephant

Oregon Zoo
Portland, Oregon
What's cuter than a full-sized elephant? A considerably smaller elephant with full-sized elephant features! This species, also known as the "pygmy elephant," is thought to be derived from a herd of domesticated elephants gifted to a 17th-century Sultan; they're about 70-90% as large as other Asian elephants, yet still rock the XXL ears, trunk, and tail. Portland's pygmy, Chendra, is the only one in the United States.

Sergei25/Shutterstock

Somali wild ass

Henry Vilas Zoo
Madison, Wisconsin
Though one might hope that going to see something called the Somali wild ass in Madison would involve partying with a badass East African dude in Pike, it's actually visiting a rare (600 in the wild) member of the horse family. Which is still not a bad day in Wisconsin.

tryton2011/Shutterstock

Pacific walrus

Indianapolis Zoo
Indianapolis, Indiana
Though these 12ft-long, 2-ton behemoths could number up to half a million worldwide, actually seeing one blubbering on a shoreline involves a trip to Western Alaska or Eastern Russia, aka considerably farther off than Indianapolis. Only 11 exist in North American zoos.

François Charles/Wikimedia Commons

Four-eyed turtle

Tennessee Aquarium
Chattanooga, Tennessee
These poindexters of the turtle family were bullied for wearing glasses in middle school and could be found stuffed in lockers. Or they just have two pigmentations on the back of their necks that from afar look like a second set of eyes. Either way, these Southeast Asian turtles are hard to spot; only 45 exist in zoos across North America.

I, Cburnett/Wikimedia Commons

Cuvier's gazelle

The Living Desert
Palm Desert, California
Almost apartment-dog-sized at 2ft tall and 35lbs, this species of gazelle native to North Africa has been hunted to the edge of extinction. Only an estimated 2,900 or so still exist, scattered throughout Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Five remain in North American zoos.

Courtesy of Zoo Atlanta

Panamanian golden frog

Zoo Atlanta
Atlanta, Georgia
These toxic frogs are critically endangered due mostly to habitat destruction and the proliferation of the chytrid fungus. Their females are generally twice the size of the males.

Dave Feliz/Wikimedia Commons

Giant garter snake

Sacramento Zoo
Sacramento, California
Though not nearly as menacing as those pythons you see in Florida that swallow entire Fiats, the largest species of garter snake is native to the San Joaquin Valley, and can grow to 64in long. Habitat destruction and drought have made this mostly aquatic animal become a rare sight.

bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

Laysan albatross

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey, California
You know how people tell you to rip up your plastic six-pack rings to "save the birds"? These are some of the birds they're talking about. One study found 97.5% of Laysan albatross chicks in the wild had plastic in their stomachs. This one, named Makana, is the only one of her kind in any zoo or aquarium in America.

Courtesy of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Hicatee

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Jacksonville, Florida
Also known as the Central American river turtle, this critically endangered animal has been hunted and harvested nearly to the point of extinction. The ones in Jacksonville are the only ones at AZA-accredited zoos, and the oldest ones on the planet.

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist who made friends with a sea lion at the St. Louis Zoo. See it all on his Instagram: @meltrez1.

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