Zoo sets all-time attendance record with 1.7 million visits

July 2, 2018 - 1:44pm
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Visitors come out in record numbers as zoo enters home stretch of bond improvements

A mild, sunny end to the month helped push the Oregon Zoo's attendance over 1.7 million for the fiscal year ending June 30 — making it the most-visited year in the zoo's 130-year history.

Although the final tally isn't in yet, the zoo had already topped its attendance record heading into the last day of the year, which — with clear skies and a nearly sold-out concert by Belle and Sebastian — also looked to be well attended. The previous record, set in 2012-13, was 1,683,442 visits.

"People in this part of the country have a stronger connection to animals than anywhere else I've seen," said zoo director Don Moore, a conservation biologist who came to Portland in 2016 from Smithsonian's National Zoo. "We have a shared vision in this community of creating a better future for wildlife, and that means a lot."

Dr. Moore said the strong attendance over the past year will help support the zoo's conservation, education and animal welfare efforts — and noted that visitors will have even more to look forward to in the months and years ahead.

"We've entered the home stretch of projects funded by the 2008 zoo bond measure promoting animal welfare and sustainability," he said. "With work about to begin on new habitats for polar bears, primates and rhinos, we will continue to evolve in a way that makes this community proud."

As usual, summer was the busiest time of year at the zoo, with more than 400,000 visits through July and August. Fall and winter were big too: The zoo shattered its attendance record for ZooLights, the annual holiday light display, with 270,081 visits — and set monthly records for November (107,192) and December (269,643) along the way.

Attendance during 2017-18 also got a boost from the new Zoo For All program. The discount option, designed to increase accessibility for lower-income families, launched in September, providing $5 admission for qualifying individuals and families every day, all year long.

In addition to being one of the most popular destinations in the Northwest, the Oregon Zoo is one of the most highly respected zoos in the country. Since 2012, it has been recognized with nine of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' major annual awards, including five for conservation work on behalf of endangered species. Its two most recent honors, announced at the annual AZA conference in September, were for work to recover the critically endangered California condor and for excellence in design at the zoo's state-of-the art Elephant Lands habitat.