Point Defiance Zoo attendance dips, but still shows strong numbers

Numbers aren’t always the biggest tell.

Hundreds of thousands of people visited Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in 2014, and while the attendance tally was lower than previous years, officials said they still consider the year a success.

“I would characterize it as a very strong year,” deputy director John Houck said. “I guess we can’t set a record every year.”

The record for highest zoo attendance was set in 2013, when 711,077 people came to the Tacoma zoo. That number dropped 3 percent last year, to 690,148.

The numbers for Zoolights, the zoo’s monthlong holiday lights festival, also dipped last year, to 116,654. The event, which ran from Nov. 28 to Jan. 4, drew 129,667 visitors in 2013, the second-highest attendance since Zoolights began 27 years ago.

Previously, 2011 held the record for attendance both for the zoo and Zoolights with 695,000 and 135,907, respectively.

The biggest news at the zoo last year might have been the approval of the $198 million bond for Metro Parks Tacoma, one-third of which will go toward improvements at the zoo.

Voters in April approved the measure to replace the aging North Pacific Aquarium and repair the walrus, polar bear, sea otter and puffin habitats.

Also helping draw visitors in 2014 were three endangered Sumatran tiger cubs — Kirana, Indah and Dari — born in October.

Houck said he expects zoo attendance to continue strong this year and is looking forward to the debut of a jellyfish exhibit in the North Pacific Aquarium.

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune