Oregon Zoo attendance tops 1.6 million for year

January 8, 2014 - 9:39am

Visitors flock to zoo in near-record numbers as ZooLights, flamingos draw big crowds

The numbers are in. For the third time in the past five years, attendance at the Oregon Zoo has topped 1.6 million, with 1,625,296 visits in 2013. The total is the second-highest in the zoo's 125-year history, just shy of the record 1,645,843 visits set in 2010.

"Our purpose is inspiring people to make a difference for wildlife, and 1.6 million visits adds up to a lot of teachable moments."

—Kim Smith, zoo director

"Our purpose is inspiring people to make a difference for wildlife, and 1.6 million visits adds up to a lot of teachable moments," said Kim Smith, zoo director. "Every person who walks through our gates represents an opportunity to make positive change, whether through education or the surcharges that directly support conservation in the Pacific Northwest and globally."

Smith said the strong attendance will help support the zoo's conservation, education and animal welfare efforts — including ongoing species recovery programs for endangered condors, turtles and butterflies as well as global support for projects helping orangutans, elephants, tigers and other imperiled animals.

As usual, summer was the zoo's busiest season, with more than 445,000 visitors passing through the gates in July and August.

Spring, too, was big: The zoo shattered its attendance record for March, when nearly 160,000 people showed up to see new arrivals that included a flock of pink flamingos, a baby De Brazza's monkey and a river otter pup just learning to swim. The zoo also set attendance records for Rabbit Romp (15,885), Easter Sunday (9,446) and spring break week for Portland Public Schools (86,131 visits; the previous record of 64,732 had been set in 1992).

In winter, an already impressive year was capped off by ZooLights, which broke its nightly attendance record three times during December. From Nov. 29 to Dec. 31, more than 163,000 visitors came to see ZooLights. (For the entire run, which ended Jan. 5, attendance was 184,519, the second-highest total ever for the popular light display.)

Smith said she expects attendance to remain strong through 2014 and beyond, as the zoo continues to implement projects funded by the community-supported zoo bond measure.

"With Condors of the Columbia opening this year and the phasing in of our expansive new Elephant Lands over the next two years, there's a lot to be excited about," Smith said. "This zoo has come a long way over the past 125 years, and we will continue to evolve in a way that makes the community proud."

Condors of the Columbia, set to open later this spring, will offer up-close looks at a species the zoo has been working behind-the-scenes to save for 10 years: the critically endangered California condor. Elephant Lands, covering 6.25 acres around the eastern edge of the zoo, will usher in a new era of animal welfare for Portland's famous Asian elephant herd.

The zoo continues to have the highest attendance of any fee-based attraction in the region.