ASHEBORO NC – The NC Zoo Council, a 15-member board appointed by the Governor to oversee the operation and development of the NC Zoo, held its annual meeting through Zoom Wednesday morning. On the agenda; impacts from COVID-19, updates on projects, repairs, new animals, and budgets, as well as an increase in admission prices.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people who visited the zoo plummeted in 2020. The initial phases of the state’s stay at home order went into effect between March and June when attendance is typically at its highest. The Zoo reported a record low attendance for 2020 of only 350,039, the lowest yearly attendance since they started keeping track in 1980.
What came as a surprise to many was despite still being limited to 3,000 visitors per day and requiring reserved tickets the Zoo reported record attendance for January 2021 with 24,738 visitors.
Attractions Reopening / Price Changes
The NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) has approved the NC Zoo to reopen its outdoor attractions on April 1st. This includes the Carousel, Treehouse Trek, Air Hike, Giraffe Deck, Zoofari, and the new Butterfly Garden.
Prices will be increasing for Air Hike going from $12 to $15 and the Giraffe Deck increasing from $3 to $5.
- Carousel $3
- Treehouse Trek $3
- Air Hike $15 *
- Giraffe Deck $5 *
- Zoofari $25
- Butterfly Garden $3
Admission Price Increase
One of the major items taken up by the council during the meeting was a proposed increase in the cost of admission. Currently, admission prices are $15 for Adults, $13 for Seniors, and $11 for children. The NC Zoo has typically raised admission prices every 5 years, with the last raise in April 2015 when adult prices went from $12.84 to the current price of $15.
Now more than 5 years later leadership at the NC Zoo and the council felt it was time to raise admission prices again.
The current prices were seen by the council as underpriced when compared to other zoos in the area, such as the Greensboro Natural Science Center which charges $16, the Riverbanks Zoo at $19.95, and the Virginia Zoo which charges $17.
Proposed was a $2 across the board increase to all admissions prices. While some council members suggested raising the price further than the proposed $2, they met resistance from other members who expressed concerns about going any higher during hard economic times.
Also considered was the idea of dynamic pricing, which is charging a higher price when there is higher demand, such as weekends and holidays. The practice is used by Walt Disney World, as well as most major theme parks.
In the end, the council voted to pass the $2 price increase with no members voting against the raise. The motion carried with it a provision to revisit the decision in a year to discuss further raising the price, as well as to again look at dynamic pricing, and increasing the cost of society memberships which are priced separately from admission pricing.
No timeline has been announced for when the new prices would take effect.
Having been fully designed, construction for Asia is on hold until more funding can be raised. So far the zoo has been able to raise 20% of the proposed 65 million dollar budget. The NC Zoo Society announced that in 2020 they raised $2 million for the project, bringing the society’s total raised to $10 million which includes four $1 million donations from lifetime members. Combined with $15 million coming from an NC Connect Bond, the project still needs another $40 million to reach its goal.
Reid Wilson the newly appointed secretary of the DNCR told the council it may be possible that N.C. Governor Roy Cooper could include a bond proposal to help with funding the project in next year’s budget, but he stressed it’s only possible and was not able to commit to any promises of funding from the state or governor and that any such bond would have to be included on a ballot to the approved by tax-payers.
Once funding is secured for the project construction would take 24 to 30 months to complete.
Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina
Nat Geo WILD’s Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina, an eight-part series that took a look behind the scenes at the North Carolina Zoo aired its final episode on Dec 19th, 2020. Many were left wondering, will there be a second season? According to Diane Villa, the administration at the zoo is in close contact with Nat Geo WILD about a second season, but no decision has been made. Villa said the NC Zoo has also been in contact with Double Act Productions, the London-based production company hired to film and produce the series for Nat Geo WILD. “We recently sent them a 3-page story idea for pitches of what’s happening at the zoo this year, so they are in conversations with Nat Geo WILD”.
Also announced by Villa, was that Nat Geo WILD will be donating $40,000 to the NC Zoo Society.