December 17, 2021
Which top Middle Tennessee attraction has stripes, spots and scales all over? The world-class Nashville Zoo at Grassmere!
This fast-growing, family-friendly destination is earning the same accolades as U.S. zoos quadruple its age – all from its perch on the south side of Nashville.
About the Nashville Zoo
After debuting in neighboring Cheatham County in 1991, the Nashville Zoo took over the 188-acre Grassmere property – located just 6 miles south of downtown Music City – and reopened in 1997.
Over the next 25 years, it has introduced animals as varied as hyacinth macaws, siamangs, meerkats, red pandas, kangaroos, cougars and flamingos, as well as rideable features like the Soaring Eagle Zip Line and Wild Animal Carousel.
The Nashville Zoo annually welcomes more than 1 million visitors. Strollers, manual wheelchairs and electric scooters are available to rent, and the zoo offers accessibility features for those with autism spectrum disorders and other sensory sensitivities. (Complimentary Zooper Packs contain resources to aid in a fun, stress-free day, like a visual schedule, fidget toys, earplugs and a sensory-friendly map indicating areas to visit and to avoid.)
Among the array of delicious dining options throughout the zoo grounds including burgers, pizza, barbecue, frozen treats, coffee – are plenty of vegan options as well.
The zoo is also heavily involved with international conservation and research efforts to save threatened species. Among its success stories: A breakthrough in great blue turaco chick survivability (thanks to the introduction of co-parenting), the birth of more than 35 clouded leopard cubs since 2009 and recognition as a pioneer in the care of giant anteaters. The staff is even working on an official “anteater care manual” with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Program!
Here are other highlights that set the Nashville Zoo above the rest.
Oh, the places you’ll go at the Nashville Zoo! Backstage Pass Tours grant visitors access to animals, areas and adventures not available to the public. The zoo currently offers two cart tour options and two “Getting to Know You” tour options.
Cart tours provide a hop-on, hop-off experience as you and your personal guide pay a visit to either the easygoing rhinos or the elegant giraffes and okapi.
“Getting to Know You” tours are the zoo’s version of meet-and-greets – get up close and personal with the clouded leopard or sloth, both of which are celebrities in our book.
All backstage tours include zoo admission, and ticket proceeds go right back to its conservation efforts. No matter which tour you choose, you’re in the hands of walking zoo-cyclopedias – one tour guide even started in the Zoo Teen program and has now been working at Grassmere in various capacities for half of her life.
To really understand the caliber of the Nashville Zoo, look no further than the accolades it has received.
The zoo recently earned back-to-back Exhibit Design Awards from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is the highest accomplishment for exhibit design given by the AZA – basically the Best Picture Oscar for zoos. Two consecutive wins has only ever occurred twice before.
In 2020, the Tiger Crossroads exhibit won the award following an extensive renovation that added a new viewing area with an interactive training window from which to observe the “streak” of majestic, endangered Sumatran tigers. (Since then, the zoo has welcomed a male tiger, Felix, in the hopes that he’ll eventually mate with a female named Frances.)
And in 2019, the AZA’s top honors went to Expedition Peru: Trek of the Andean Bear. In this totally immersive exhibit, you’ll find South America’s only native bear species, as well as pudu (the world’s smallest deer), guinea pigs, freshwater stingrays and cotton-top tamarin.
What’s New at Nashville Zoo
What’s next for the Nashville Zoo? Growth, growth, and more growth.
Phase II of its ongoing Grow Wild initiative will see the construction of a 40-acre African savanna and village, plus an education facility with large classrooms and inspiration to learn about animal care and conservation.
Phase III will round out the African experience with a leafy forest slated to house okapi, bongo antelopes, red river hogs, and primates including mandrill, guenon and a family of gorillas.
At nearly 200 acres, the Nashville Zoo is the ninth largest in the country by landmass – and less than half of the property is currently developed. That means in the coming weeks, months and years, there’s plenty of room to grow wild.