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Australia’s Most Popular Zoos

Some 700 million people push through the turnstiles of the international zoo industry each year. Around 10 million of them (including international visitors) pack into at least one of Australia’s own parade of zoos, wildlife parks, and sanctuaries.

But in an industry hosting so many players throughout all corners of the country, and yet with still more on the way, how do these numbers fall? How have some of the big players continued to rally the strongest crowds to help push their conversationalist ethic while others struggle to even match/capture the newfound popularity of a handful of out-of-the-way places?

Thanks to the page-turning wonder of annual financial reports and the general goodwill underwriting the industry’s practices, most zoos openly provide their admissions information. And while its fun to see how your zoo of choice stacks up against the rest, the things left unsaid make for interesting reading.

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Visitor statistics for major Australian zoos during the 2016/2017 financial year. Some establishments state exact numbers whilst others round to the nearest thousand.

** Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and Taronga Western Plains Zoo only provided visitor milestones that they surpassed for the 2016/2017 financial year.

The Little Guys

Visitor statistics are not publicly available for the Australian Reptile Park or the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, amongst others, which would probably have featured in the lower half of this tally. Both have grown more prominent in recent years thanks in part growing influxes of interstate and international visitors and both are now expanding their attractions.

The Australian Reptile Park’s ability to hold its appeal with locals and regional intrastate patrons has also been assisted by a bubbling social media presence; engagement with their Facebook page rivalling that of the much grander Taronga Zoo. Regular airtime on shows like Bondi Vet (now broadcast throughout the US and Europe) haven’t hurt business either.

Snake and Koala Ride Dog at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary 1938 - State Library of Queensland

A python and a koala hitch a ride at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, 1938. Image Attribution: State Library of Queensland.

Australia Zoo’s Woes

It would be remiss to cover the recent history of Australia Zoo without mentioning the loss of its previous guardian Steve Irwin. The dismally unfortunate event, itself a mark in the history of the country and conservationism as a whole, also quite definitively marks a change in era for the zoo. Since this time, the zoo has been frustrated by managerial complications, legal disputes, and shallowing pockets.

A 334-acre safari and hotel expansion to the 76-acre property was initially due to be completed by 2009 but the idea was shelved on account of souring financial conditions. According to 2016 development reports, the zoo is only now re-considering the addition of on-site accommodation with the construction of a cabin and camping facility over 72 acres.

A Silver-Backed Lining

Zoo admissions have revelled in a steady state of growth since before the turn of the century. As they grow, the conservation-oriented principles they are founded on grow with them. While there will always be varying levels of individual success (or lack thereof) within the zoo pack in places like Australia, their continual popularity rise as a collective bodes well for the wildlife they seek to preserve for zoo-goers of the future.

And who knows, perhaps the Irwins’ uplift in airtime on American TV networks, including a return to Animal Planet, may mark a new era for Australia Zoo too.