Conservation Education at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

Visitors view the Trapper’s Cabin at the Kingdoms of the Night exhibit.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is Nebraska’s number one paid attendance attraction and has welcomed more than 25 million visitors over the past 40 years to learn about wildlife and wildlife habitat in the zoo’s many exhibits. One of the more-recent educational exhibits at the Henry Doorly Zoo is the Kingdoms of the Night. Located beneath the Desert Dome, Kingdoms of the Night is the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, featuring a wet cave, caverns, a bat cave and the world’s largest indoor swamp. These exhibits run on a reverse light-cycle, so visitors can see nocturnal animals when they are active and awake.

The Nebraska Environmental Trust helped make the nocturnal swamp at Kingdoms of the Night possible through a $448,450 grant in 2001. Millions of visitors have toured the ¼ acre mysterious swamp from a floating boardwalk, experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of the nighttime swamp while learning about the importance of wetland conservation. “Nebraska is a state covered with wetland acres,” said Mary A. Harding, Executive Director of the Nebraska Environmental Trust. “We are proud to support Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in their efforts to educate Nebraskans about wetlands and wetland conservation." Also featured in the swamp is a Trapper’s Cabin, a beaver lodge, cypress trees and 30 swamp species in barrier-free habitats. Currently, swamp residents include beaver, possums, nutria (a large, semi-aquatic rodent), barn owls, wood ducks, caiman (a small crocodilian), American alligators, bull frogs, turtles and fish.

The conservation success of an indoor, man-made exhibit can be determined through a variety of animal adaptations. For example, several female alligators began nesting and laying eggs this past spring. 40 eggs were laid; some were collected and artificially incubated, while others were left on exhibit for maternal care. Both groups successfully hatched in June 2005. In addition to alligators, five of the nutria on display were born in the naturalistic swamp habitat.