Since opening in 1927 with a handful of donated animals, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has gained a reputation as a leader in global conservation and local entertainment. It was recently named America's best zoo by USA Travel Guide, a leading tourist publication. Here are some of the greatest treasures you'll find inside.

Since opening in 1927 with a handful of donated animals, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has gained a reputation as a leader in global conservation and local entertainment. It was recently named America's best zoo by USA Travel Guide, a leading tourist publication. Here are some of the greatest treasures you'll find inside.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Location: Powell

Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily

Tickets: $12 adults; $7 seniors and kids ages 2-9; $5 parking

Web: columbuszoo.org

Asia Quest

Highlights: Sun bears, red pandas, Amur tigers, Asian elephants, flying fox

My favorite moment: Bodhi, an Asian elephant born in 2004, enjoying a lively early morning swim in his outdoor pasture.

In short: The zoo has conservation efforts across the world, but one focus is the endangered species of Asia. They've brought much of this work home with them, displayed in this expansive exhibit. It's a winding interactive journey that takes you through the continent's diverse animal kingdom.

Fun fact: Fluffy is thought to be the largest snake in captivity. The reticulated python is 24 feet long and weighs about 300 pounds.

North America

Highlights: Grizzly bears, puma, bobcats, American bison, river otters

My favorite moment: Being arm's length from numerous rare species in the Migratory Songbird Aviary.

In short: The zoo's staff understands that exotic animals are fascinating, but they don't give short shrift to those who once lived in our own backyards. This exhibit celebrates the rich wildlife of America's wetlands, prairies and deep woods, territories vanishing at alarming rates. It's a reminder that our natural heritage is as fragile as any.

Fun fact: Bison are not true buffalo. The two buffalo species are African cape buffalo and Asian water buffalo.

Shores

Highlights: King cobra, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, flamingos, bonnethead sharks

My favorite moment: Learning that flamingos can sit down with their long, skinny legs looking like they've been snapped in half at the knee.

In short: This exhibit includes numerous separate displays - Discovery Reef, the reptile house, Manatee Coast and the chilly hangout of those hilarious Humboldt penguins. Each area illustrates the lengths to which the zoo staff goes to recreate natural habitats for each species on hand. Definitely check out the invertebrate touching pool, where you get hands-on experience with starfish and other ocean creatures.

Fun fact: Coral reefs are the largest living organisms on Earth.

Voyage to Australia and the Islands

Highlights: Lorikeets, kangaroos, komodo dragons, gibbons, koalas

My favorite moment: Smelling the foul breath of a komodo dragon through an interactive display. It's awful.

In short: The Land Down Under is brought to life through an area that would make Steve Irwin proud. All the animals are unique, and many like the fishing cats and tiger quolls are less familiar to wildlife fans. For those looking to kick back, there's a boat ride that weaves around major points of interest.

Fun fact: Koalas, which are marsupials and not bears, rarely drink water. Instead they get liquid from their favorite food, eucalyptus leaves.