More than three-quarters of a million people visited the N.C. Zoo in the fiscal year that just ended, making 2015-2016 the best in 19 years for attendance at the park and the fourth-best in its history.
The zoo counted 755,567 guests between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, said spokeswoman Lane Ragsdale. He attributed the strong attendance to the addition of male polar bear Nikita, whose interactions with female bear Anana have been a source of great public interest; temperate weather; and a growing focus on the zoo as a spring destination.
“We are delighted to see a significant increase in visitors for the last fiscal year,” said zoo director Pat Simmons. “Growth in visitor numbers means we are reaching more and more people with our message of education, conservation and wonderful animals at the largest zoo in the world,” a reference to the zoo’s 2,200-acre campus.
Zoo officials and Gov. Pat McCrory have said they would like to add enough attractions at the zoo so that it regularly sees a million visitors a year. But so far, the all-time high attendance was in calendar year 1995, when 840,410 people came through the gates. That was on the heels of the opening of North America, the zoo’s second continental exhibit area. The zoo officially opened to the public in 1974 and its first “continent,” Africa, opened in 1979.
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The zoo, in Asheboro, is about a 90-minute drive from both Raleigh and Charlotte. Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.