Zoo attendance spikes to 29-year high

Feb 17, 2017

Some new four-legged residents, a long stretch of wonderful weather, and ambitious marketing efforts are credited for helping the Buffalo Zoo hit an attendance milestone in 2016.

More than 538,000 visitors flocked to the North Buffalo cultural institution last year, the highest attendance in nearly three decades. Attendance was up about 52,000 from the previous year. The 2016 visitor volume was the highest since 1987, when 545,800 people trekked to the zoo.

Zoo Marketing Director Todd Geise told WBFO a number of factors contributed to the favorable turnout.

“We all agree that 2016 was a phenomenal weather year, with very good temperatures and low precipitation,” he said. “When that happens, the zoo always becomes top of my mind.”

A new Artic Edge exhibit and the birth of African Lion cubs also made the zoo a popular pit stop for local residents and tourists.

Zoo officials also believe that revamped marketing initiatives helped to promote the attraction.

Increased attendance produces many benefits, but it also intensifies parking pressures.

“Parking is always a challenge at the zoo,” Geise said. “Our parking lot holds about 330 cars and we see a solid turnover every busy day when there is more than a couple thousand people.  But a lot of folks do seem to find parking around Delaware Park or the Parkside neighborhood. There might be a little walk involved.”

Geise added that during the core season, a Zoofari shuttle transports visitors from ancillary lots to the zoo gate. The shuttle will resume operation by the end of April. 

Looking ahead, officials are optimistic that attendance will continue to be strong. The debut of the zoo's new polar bear, Sakari,  and a naming contest for its baby ocelot have helped to draw attention.

Geise said many Western New Yorkers mistakenly believe the zoo is closed during the winter months.

“One of the surprising factors that I looked at was that a lot of people aren’t aware that the Zoo is in fact open year-round. So from the marketing perspective, I think it is really important to put out there when the zoo is not top-of-mind,  because maybe its colder or maybe a little windier, but we are open and we do have some really great indoor exhibits.”

Meanwhile, the zoo will sponsor a Feb. 23 fundraiser called Polar Bites. Organizers hope to attract about 1,200 people to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center where local restaurants will provide samples. There will also be a basket auction and a silent auction. Some “ambassador animals” from the zoo will also make an appearance.