Zoo breaks attendance record, Zoolights turnout up

Staff writerJanuary 7, 2014 


Nick Larson uses a drill to take down some of the 500,000 Christmas lights at Point Defiance Park on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2013. There were 129,667 visitors in the last several weeks to ooh and ahh at the Zoolights. That's the second-highest number in Zoolights' 26 years, just behind the 2011 attendance of 135,907.

LUI KIT WONG — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium last year broke its record for highest attendance, drawing 2 percent more people than in its previous record year.

Officials said 711,077 people visited the Tacoma zoo in 2013, up from 661,748 in 2012 and 695,000 in 2011, which held the previous record.

Zoolights attendance also increased in 2013 as zoo lovers flocked to see a newly designed Mount Rainier lit up with LED lights and a new display of polar bears perched upon ice floes. Last year 129,667 people turned out, making it the second highest attended Zoolights in the event’s 26-year run. The record was in 2011, when 135,907 visitors came to gawk at the brightly lit displays.

Deputy Director John Houck said he was thrilled about how many people came to Point Defiance last year but what matters most is what the visitors gained from the experience.

“Record numbers mean record people exposed to the things we feel strongly about – the mission of conservation,” he said.

The jump in attendance happened in spite of a disappointing turnout in September from constant rain and cold weather, Houck said.

A plethora of baby animals and new exhibits were on offer to zoo visitors. Kali, an endangered Sumatran tiger, was born in April and Tien, a clouded leopard cub, was born the next month. June brought the births of two harbor seal pups, Hogan and Saya.

The zoo also opened Stingray Cove and the Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive programs, both interactive exhibits that allow people up-close-and-personal encounters with creatures in the South Pacific Aquarium.

“This unparalleled attendance validates the work we do at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium every day to bring the public quality exhibits showcasing many of the most precious animals on earth,” said Gary Geddes, director of zoological and environmental education for Metro Parks Tacoma.

Other additions are planned this year as well. Bamboo sharks and epaulette sharks will be added to the Stingray Cove touch tank in the spring. Endangered black and white ruffed lemurs will join the Kids’ Zone area and Herald the Wonder Dog will star as “Indiana Bones” at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater in May.

“We know the community will love what we have in store in 2014,” Houck said. “We promise to uphold the very best of the zoo’s 109-year-old traditions.”

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

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