ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The reason behind the extra foot traffic at the Rio Grande Zoo is black and white. Attendance numbers for the new the penguin exhibit’s first few weeks of operation show that calling the attraction a “hit” is an understatement.
“The penguins [are] what drew me here today,” Yvonne Sanders of Albuquerque said.
The new Penguin Chill Exhibit is even drawing in people who haven’t been to the zoo in a while.
“It’s been over a year, so I’ve been waiting for the penguins,” Jaycie Velasquez of Albuquerque added.
Signs outside the zoo warn people of the long wait times. In the exhibit’s first three weeks, the zoo’s curator of birds, Karen Waterfall, said about 90,000 people have gone through the exhibit.
Zoo staff said people are going through the $17 million exhibit multiple times per zoo trip. What’s more, the zoo has seen an 80-percent attendance spike when compared to the same three-week time period last summer.
“This time last year, we had about 47,000 people through the zoo,” Waterfall stated. “This year, we’ve had about 85,000 people.”
It’s a big boost for the zoo, as officials said they couldn’t track down the last time attendance was this high.
“I think we’re all encouraged by this and with the projects coming online in the future, we’re really excited about those, too,” Waterfall said.
Many zoo-goers said the penguins will keep them coming back.
“Actually, I bought them the annual passes to come to the zoo so they can come and experience it anytime they want to,” Sanders said.
The last time the BioPark had such a big spike in attendance was last summer at the aquarium when the otter exhibit opened. It more than doubled its attendance during that exhibit’s first few weeks.
The next big exhibits coming to the zoo are the Asia and Australia exhibits. Those are still in the planning stages and will be paid for by the new BioPark tax.