Attendance at the Kansas City Zoo reached a historic high this year with more than 900,000 visitors, the zoo announced Wednesday.
That is the highest attendance in the animal park’s 106-year history. The zoo’s goal is to crack the 1 million mark in 2016.
“To imagine we’ve increased our attendance more than 90 percent and are heading toward 1 million guests is a tribute to all the support this city and surrounding areas have provided,” zoo director Randy Wisthoff said in making the announcement. “Thank you, Kansas City, thank you, residents of Jackson and Clay counties, for supporting the zoological district, and thank you all for visiting the Kansas City Zoo time and time again.”
Zoo attendance rose to a peak of 714,367 visitors in 1998 in the wake of the 1995 opening of the vast new African section, but it quickly subsided with a lack of new attractions.
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The nonprofit Friends of the Zoo assumed management of the city-owned zoo in 2002 and Wisthoff was hired from the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., the following year. Attendance seesawed and fell to 386,835 in 2006 when the results of a $30 million bond issue began to take shape.
Zoo visits began rising steadily with the successive opening of a shortcut to the African section, an old-fashioned carousel, a new zoo entrance with closer parking and a renovated tropics building. That was followed by an $11 million polar bear exhibit, a sky ride, a $15 million penguin exhibit and this year a $6 million orangutan exhibit.
Zoo officials are now considering improvements to the elephant exhibit and other projects.
The zoo hopes to achieve its goal of 915,000 visitors by the end of 2015. The goal is 1.025 million next year and 1.1 million in 2017.
“When you start hitting a million, that’s hitting the big time in the zoo world,” Wisthoff said in 2012.