Visitors return to Mesker Park Zoo after COVID shutdown


EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Community members return through the gates of Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden, and they spend money once inside.

Executive Director Erik Beck said visitor numbers were back to pre-pandemic totals, with 2021 seeing 114,000 visitors from January to July.

Beck is grateful that those numbers have returned, but they are not a major difference from the 113,000 in 2019, the last full year without the impact of COVID-19. The big difference is the money these visitors spend.

Revenue is exceeding expectations, with the zoo recording $ 260,000 more than between January and July 2019.

Whether it’s the gift shop, the streetcar, feeding the giraffes or the horseback rides, zoo visitors do more than go from exhibit to exhibit.

Blue and white budgie nibbles on stick holding birdseed Annie Hoeppner, 7, from Newburgh, Ind., Donated to Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden on Saturday, August 21, 2021. Her mother, Kristine, and sister, Lottie, 2 , got a kick out of the intrepid bird in the Budgie Walkabout installation.

“They find ways to enjoy their day here, to spend more time with their families at the park,” Beck said.

Some areas with potential income have not yet returned. Attractions such as the pedal boats and the petting zoo remain closed.

Beck said that for both activities, especially boats, staff need to be in close proximity to guests.

“I think based on the comfort level of the staff and my comfort level, we just haven’t (opened up) this yet,” Beck said.

The zoo also strives to keep guests a safe distance from zoo animals, which it says is always a reminder that staff are not vaccinated.

Gunner Kitchell, 10, of Carlisle, Indiana, is greeted by one of two river otters in the Enchanted Forest at Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden on Saturday, August 21, 2021.

Beck said the zoo assesses every few weeks where vaccination rates are for the county and surrounding areas, as well as the comfort level of staff, to make those decisions about zoo operations.

By 2022, the management of the zoo expects a 32% increase in the number of visitors, or 230,000 people, and revenues of 1.821 million dollars.

Beck said that for screenings, the zoo considers 2019 its final year of a full routine.

This increase in the number of visitors would have a ripple effect on the rest of the park, he said.

“We’re ready for these people,” Beck said. “We are delighted to see them.”

With the addition of the Patagonian Penguins exhibit, the zoo is also instituting an increase in admissions from its opening.

A dwarf Caiman crocodile, the smallest of the crocodile family, is seen under the surface of the water in the Amazon at the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanical Garden on Saturday, August 21, 2021.

The higher admission was approved by the Council of Parks Commissioners at the June meeting, at which President Jerome Stewart said that even with the increase, the prices were a bargain.

Admission will be $ 11 for adults, $ 10 for children 3 to 12, and free for children 12 and under. The rebate for residents of Vanderburgh County will increase to $ 2 from the current $ 1.

The last increase in entrance fees to the zoo was in 2015.

Beck said the increase in entry prices could increase this area of ​​revenue by over $ 300,000. He said admissions income is typically around $ 600,000.

The 2022 capital spending budget is proposed at $ 1.3 million, which includes the city’s contribution to penguin habitat at approximately $ 460,000. The total expenditure budget presented to City Council was $ 5,440,000.

The African Rift attracts a constant stream of visitors to see giraffes and zebras at the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanical Garden on Saturday, August 21, 2021.

This includes increases in food costs with the addition of the new exhibit and the novelty line to help meet demand in the gift shop.

The zoo, which is in its accreditation year, has also included new purchases and ongoing projects in its proposal to the city. An accreditation visit is scheduled for May or June 2022.

The zoo has plans to purchase a $ 60,000 x-ray machine to replace its current one, which is largely obsolete, deputy director Paul Bouseman said.

The roof of the Kley building is also in need of replacement. The building was constructed in 1951 and the current roof was put in place in 1997. The total budget for this upgrade is $ 350,000.

To continue updates on its tiger exhibit, the zoo is offering $ 150,000 for behind-the-scenes space updates where the animals are fed and spent their nights.

Bouseman said updates in this area will also address potential Zoos and Aquariums Association accreditation issues that may arise in the future.

“It’s a big and aggressive budget, but it’s for our beloved zoo, which is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2028,” Bouseman said. “The team that we have at the zoo right now is very focused, not only on milestones and day-to-day operation to AZA and USDA standards, but also looking ahead and deciding what to do next. we want the zoo to look. like it was in 2028. ”

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