BLOOMINGTON — For the second year in a row, Miller Park Zoo is seeing record-setting attendance and gate revenue.
Attendance increased from 114,311 in fiscal year 2016 to 123,129 for the fiscal year that ended April 30. Over the same time frame, gate revenue increased from $406,231 to $427,765.
"I think the flamingos exhibit, good weather, snow leopard cubs all play a part of that," said Jay Tetzloff, zoo superintendent and director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.
The flamingo exhibit, which opened in June 2016, was expected to increase admissions by 5 percent, but Tetzloff worried about attaining that goal because the zoo had just broken its attendance record for the first time since 2005.
"But we broke the previous year's record-breaking attendance; we beat it by 8 percent," said Tetzloff, adding, "I'd like to think it's also because of the community's support, period."
Three baby snow leopards born May 1, 2016, also were real crowd-pleasers for both children and adults. The female cubs are the offspring of “Rilu” (dad) and “Hima” (mom), that also had two female cubs in 2015.
The snow leopards are among several endangered species the zoo hopes to help survive through participating in breeding programs with other North American zoos.
Tetzloff hopes the zoo will continue its record-breaking numbers by showing off its latest baby red wolves, river otters and San Clemente goats, which are all considered to be critically endangered animals.
Two female otter pups were born Feb. 25 and are on display.
Four male red wolf pups were born April 29, but it could be a few more weeks before the public is able to view them because their mom, fearing they aren't old enough to survive on their own, is still protecting them by hiding them under a log and other places, said Tetzloff.
The opportunity to name the pups will be auctioned off at the annual Zoo Do fundraiser in September.
Meanwhile, two new exhibits are slated to open in about a month across from the sun bear exhibit in the 102-year-old Katthoefer Animal Building.
One features a 17-foot reticulated python that is new to the zoo. The other will house five species of animals living together — an Indochinese box turtle, a crested wood partridge, a northern tree shrew, a pygmy slow loris and a fairy bluebird.
"Four of those five are new species for us. We currently have the tree shrews," said Tetzloff.
During last year's Zoo Do, $15,000 was raised specifically for the two new exhibits. The Bloomington-Normal Area Home Builders Association has donated construction labor "and got some pretty good deals on materials" for the projects, said Tetzloff.
The zoo has added a glass-enclosed beehive for public viewing in the Zoo Lab building in conjunction with a parks department initiative to plant more butterfly gardens nearby and across the city.
The conservation effort is being undertaken to educate the public about the disappearance of pollinators in this country and worldwide, said Tetzloff.
"Butterflies, bees, anything that pollinate our food — their population numbers are just crashing," said Tetzloff. "The best way to educate people about pollinators is to show them."
The bees were donated to the zoo by Ward 6 Alderman Karen Schmidt.
Honey created by the bees will be sold in the zoo's gift shop, but the product is not expected to generate a large amount of revenue, said Tetzloff.
"It's more about creating awareness," he said.