elephant denver zoo

The Denver Zoo's annual "Squish the Squash" event in October 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Denver Zoo)

The Denver Zoo has been ranked as one of the best and most ethical zoos in the United States by Travel + Leisure.

The 84-acre zoo that is home to lions, zebras and elephants was joined alongside world renown facilities such as the San Diego Zoo, Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park and the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C.

The list was complied by using the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' list of accredited locations that provide "excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things," according to AZA's website.

"There's a huge difference between a 'zoo' and an accredited zoo, and when you look at that list of zoos there is a big difference between animal care and conservation efforts," said Jake Kubie, a spokesperson for the Denver Zoo.

"A recognition like this a very rewarding for all of us."

The Denver Zoos' Field Conservation and Emergency Wildlife Response team was a major reason for the zoo's listing as they work across the world to protect species threatened by human intrusion, habitat loss and catastrophic events.

And for many at the zoo, this is the backbone of the whole facility.

"(It's) the most important thing that we do and it's critical to our mission," Kubie said. 

Some of the projects the zoo has taken on include trying to revive the Great Lakes Piping Plover through incubating abandoned eggs, and working to rehabilitation African penguins chicks that are abandoned at birth.

Although many visitors still see the zoo as an fun attraction to breakaway from reality for an hour or two, Kubie said being named on this list will hopefully bring to light the true meaning of modern zoos.

"It's important for our visitors and our members to know what we do both for animals at the zoo and around the world, because we want them to know that their support goes directly to these critical components of what we do, so a recognition like this is amazing."