More than 732,000 people visited Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in 2015, shattering its previous attendance record.
Zoo officials attribute the influx of guests to the cuteness of Sumatran tiger triplets and quadruplet clouded leopard cubs, as well as two new exhibits, the debut of a Malayan tapir and an array of conservation events.
“The numbers in which people visited during 2015 are an affirmation of the work we do to showcase endangered species and deliver resonant messages on conservation and environmental stewardship,” said Tim Reid, president of the Metro Parks Board of Park Commissioners.
Last year, 732,208 people pushed past turnstiles at the zoo. That is nearly a 3 percent increase from 2013, when the Tacoma zoo set a record for attendance with 711,077 visitors.
Although attendance for Point Defiance Zoo soared, the attendance for its holiday light show Zoolights dropped for the second consecutive year.
The lights extravaganza, which ran Nov. 27 to Jan. 3, drew 103,572 people in 2015, down from 116,654 visitors in 2014.
Zoolights’ record attendance still holds at 135,907 in 2011.
Officials said weather is to blame for lack of attendance. Last month was the second-wettest December on record for the region, with 11.21 inches of rain, well above the normal 5.25 inches.
“Although we provided great displays and a wonderful experience for people, it was difficult for a lot of people to come out given the weather,” said Kris Sherman, a zoo spokeswoman.
Throughout the rest of the year, 628,636 guests explored the zoo and aquarium during the day.
Two new exhibits — Jammin’ with Jellies and the Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive experience — are believed to have helped draw folks through the gates.
A variety of special events, including Zoo Boo in October, Earth Day-inspired Party for the Planet, an Arctic Blast play day in August and birthday celebrations for animals, also boosted attendance.
“Our staff worked tirelessly throughout 2015 to provide our guests with meaningful experiences that we believe they will remember for years to come,” said John Houck, the zoo’s deputy director.
Of course, the animals remain the main draw at Point Defiance Zoo.
Baku, a Malayan tapir, arrived in October. Crowds turned out to watch Sumatran tiger triplets Dari, Indah and Kirana play in their outdoor enclosure.
Clouded leopard quadruplets Banyan, Kapok, Teak and Orchid captured the hearts of guests who came to watch the cubs nurse after they were born in May.
Houck said Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium remains a top place for families in the area.
“We believe the zoo is a source of great pride for Tacoma and the entire Puget Sound region,” he said.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
RECORD TURNOUT FOR FANTASY LIGHTS
Fantasy Lights in Spanaway saw record attendance in 2015 with 164,549 visitors, a 4.3 percent increase from the year before.
The drive-through holiday lights festival, which features 300 animated displays at Lake Spanaway Park, celebrated its 21st year in 2015.
Pierce County officials counted 25,181 cars during the five-week event.