Entrance to Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
|Date opened||April 25, 1974|
|Location||Columbia and West Columbia, South Carolina United States|
|Land area||170 acres (69 ha)|
|Major exhibits||African Plains, Aquarium Reptile Complex, Ndoki Forest, Riverbanks Farm|
|Owner||Rich-Lex Riverbanks Park Special Purpose District|
The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is a 170-acre (69 ha) zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden located along the Saluda River in Columbia, South Carolina, United States. A small portion of the zoo extends into the nearby city of West Columbia. It is operated by the Rich-Lex Riverbanks Park Special Purpose District, a partnership of the city of Columbia and Richland and Lexington counties. It is overseen by the Riverbanks Park Commission, comprising two members each from the three governments and one at-large member.
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
In the early 1960s, Columbia-area businessmen conceived of a zoo for the state capital. However, the idea didn't get beyond the planning stages until 1969, when the state created the Rich-Lex Riverbanks Park Special Purpose District to run the proposed zoo. The zoo opened on Thursday, April 25, 1974 after 5 years of planning. Within two years, it was obvious that the zoo would not be self-supporting, and the Riverbanks Zoological Society was created to help raise money for it. At the same time, Palmer "Satch" Krantz was appointed executive director. Notable features of the original Zoo design were the mountainous, moated exhibits for big cats and bears.
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is South Carolina's largest gated attraction, averaging over one million visitors each year--a considerable amount for a zoo serving a region as small as Columbia (the Columbia metropolitan area has only 800,000 people). Riverbanks is a four-time winner of the Southeastern Tourism Society's Shining Example Award as the Southeast's top tourist attraction and a two-time winner of the SC Parks Recreation and Tourism Governor's Cup Award as South Carolina's Leading Attraction.
The zoo is home to over 2,000 animals, with collections of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish. In 2002, additions included exhibits for African elephants, gorillas, and koalas. The Birdhouse at Riverbanks (opened 2001) was given a Significant Achievement Award by the AZA as one of the best new zoo exhibits in the United States, and features a display of king, rockhopper, and gentoo penguins. The Zoo 2002 plan cost $15 million.
The Aquarium Reptile Complex (opened in 1989 as part of the Zoo II plan) is a 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) building with a 50,000-U.S.-gallon (190,000 L) tank for Pacific coral reef species, as well as exhibits for Galapagos tortoises, false gharials, Komodo dragons, and other reptiles. There is a Galapagos tortoise sculpture next to it.
Opened in 2002,Ndoki Forest houses two of the larger African species, the African elephant and western lowland gorilla, as well as de Brazza's monkey, slender-tailed meerkat, and various birds. The elephants live in a -acre (0.20 ha) yard with a 250,000-U.S.-gallon (950,000 L) pool.
Riverbanks Farm (opened in 1988) contains domestic animals and allows guests to feed the zoo's goats and llamas. Lemur Island is an exhibit including ring-tailed lemurs and red ruffed lemurs. Conservation Outpost has threatened species such as howler monkeys, fishing cats, and tree kangaroos. In 1983, the Education Center opened for Zoo Camp.
Kangaroo Walkabout is another recent addition. It has a path leading into the exhibit where visitors can view wallabies and red kangaroos without a barrier between them. However, visitors cannot stray from the path.
In June 2016 a new Sea lion exhibit was opened, which is modeled after San Francisco's Pier 39. Around that time the newly renovated Entrance, renovated otter exhibit, and renovated grizzly bear exhibit also opened. This was all part of the zoo's $36 million Destination Riverbanks plan.
The Birmingham Zoo's western lowland gorilla, Cenzoo was sent to this zoo in late February 2015 to breed with a female gorilla from North Carolina Zoo and two more female gorillas from Zoo Atlanta as part of the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan.
Riverbanks also has a 70-acre (28 ha) botanical garden (opened on June 10, 1995 at the cost of $6 million) with more than 4,200 species of native and exotic plants, and some sculptures. A trail system lets visitors explore several kilometers of bottomland and upland mixed hardwood forests in search of the native wildlife that call the Zoo and Garden home.
Waterfall Junction (opened in April 2016) at Riverbanks Botanical Garden invites families and children of all ages to get outdoors and explore nature. Imagination blooms in this 3-acre wonderland where you can pop in and out of a rabbit hole, unearth a life-size replica of a T-Rex, frolic between giant tree houses and kid-size playhouses, splash around and under a 25-foot cascading waterfall and run or rest on a grassy meadow. Cool refreshments await at The Oasis concession stand.