Fresh off celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is touting a different kind of milestone. A record of nearly 619,000 people visited the attraction this year. Zoo Director Jim Anderson says attendance on an average year "hovers around 550,000," but a combination of factors including favorable weather, projects like the $7 million Australian Adventure renovation helped drive the record year.
Though he wouldn’t give specifics, Anderson says the zoo is planning some improvements in the future that he hopes will contribute to continued big numbers at the gates. He says management plans its budget based on conservative estimates each year, so big rises or big drops are factored into the equation.
"People visiting the zoo is affirmation of what we do," Anderson says. "They’re our audience. They’re the object of our mission. So attendance means we are accomplishing our mission, so we would hope to achieve that many people or more going forward. That’s what we’ll continue to work for, always trying to provide a better guest experience and help people develop a passion for animals."
This year’s attendance broke a six-year-old record by more than 4,000 guests. 2009 was the first year for the African Journey exhibit. The zoo, which says it is the largest tourist attraction in northeast Indiana, receives no funding for operations from tax payers, and is run by the nonprofit Fort Wayne Zoological Society. It’s become a major economic driver in the Allen County city and officials say one in five zoo visitors comes from outside the state and more than 90 percent of all guests from outside Fort Wayne cite it as their primary reason for travel to the city.
The zoo closed after Halloween and will reopen next season April 26.
Anderson tells Inside INdiana Business 2015 was simply “amazing.”