Jane Rockwell, 7, stands next to a lighted moose at the Denver Zoo lights November 25, 2016. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
The Denver Zoo set an all-time attendance record of 2.2 million visitors in 2017, making it the best-attended year in its 121-year history.
The 2,176,016 guests who visited the Zoo included not only paid attendance, but also free admission (382,446 visitors), night-time events, the Zoo Lights holiday display and various on-site education programs.
General daytime admission was 7.9 percent over the Zoo’s annual budget of $40 million — or about $100,000 per day, according to Zoo officials.
“We will continue to explore the most effective ways our Zoo can support the preservation of wild animals and wild spaces, while enhancing our on-campus guest experiences,” interim president and CEO Denny O’Malley said in a press statement.
The 2.2 million visitors represented only a percentage-point increase over 2016’s total visitors of 2,050,819 — which itself nearly bested the former record of 2012 with 2.1 million visitors, thanks in large part that year to the opening of the Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit.
MORE: Your guide to free days at the Denver Zoo and more popular destination.
The Zoo attributed much of its 2017 success to its new 18,000-square-foot, $2.2 million tiger exhibit space, The Edge, which opened on March 17, and features the Zoo’s three Amur tigers: Nikolai, Nikita and Thimbu.
Other 2017 highlights included the “Dinos! Live” traveling exhibit, which brought life-sized and animatronic dinosaurs to the grounds, and a number of social media-friendly births, including Dobby the giraffe (born in March) and two male red panda cubs, Lali and Masu (born in August).
The attendance record comes amid the continuing search for a new CEO, following the abrupt resignation of Shannon Block in June. Block, who took the helm in January of 2014, presided over several controversies including abandoning a plan to convert animal waste into energy and a fight over providing information to the city’s auditor.
“We have selected a search firm and are in the process of developing the job description, and will share more information as it becomes available,” said Jake Kubié, the Zoo’s communications manager.
The Denver Zoo has about 350 employees and 600 volunteers, not including concession staff, which cares for 3,700 animals representing more than 600 species.
Another 63,098 people also participated last year in the Zoo’s outreach education programs in schools, libraries and community centers throughout Colorado and Wyoming, as well as conservation education programs around the world, officials said.
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