This morning the Star Tribune had a front page story about the zoo “Minnesota Zoo plans ambitious costly makeover” Frist thing that came to mind.. nothing happens over there that isn’t costly.
The Zoo was on my mind this week, Daughter was on Spring break and the one activity she did was to head over to the Minnesota Zoo. I spent a lot of time at the zoo. As she was heading out the door I gave her a $20. “You can get something to eat with that too.” “Nope Dad, that will just get me in the door.”
I love Zoos. When I travel I make it a point to try to visit zoos, I’ve been know to make trips to a city specifically for that purpose. For example, there is no other reason to go to Milwaukee, at least from my perspective other than to visit their zoo. Which BTW, is a good reason, it’s among the best in the country.
The Minnesota Zoo is enjoyable, it’s a good zoo, but not a great zoo, certainly not a destination zoo, but for a local zoo in a smaller metro area, it’s not bad. I did get tired of the constant barrage of environmental education that they sling over there, can’t go see dolphins without 10 minutes of discussion about sustainable tuna. Granted I used to be over there once a month so maybe I was a little desensitized to the plight of the dolphin.
I used to especially like the Tropics Trail, an indoor loop through a Southeast Asian topical rainforest. It’s a nice escape from winter with it’s steamy atmosphere, tropical plants and animals.. Very enjoyable.
At some point in the last few years the Zoo started making some unwelcome changes, the most poignant, charging $6.00 to park. And once memberships cracked the $100 range, I was done.
Besides we have another zoo in town, the Como Zoo in St. Paul, smaller to be sure, but it has a couple things going for it that might Minnesota Zoo does not. It’s family friendly. For one thing, it’s free, that’s huge. A family of 4 at the Minnesota Zoo is going to spend around $65.00 just to walk in the door. Personally, I think it’s a deterrent. The Como Park Zoo has lions, zebras, giraffes, and great apes. The greatest hits from any zoo parade. The Minnesota Zoo has none of the above.
In the article reporter David Peterson did a nice job bringing up some of the points that have been on my mind;
1) It’s expensive. According the article we have the second most expensive zoo among “comparable zoos”. I’m not sure what “comparable zoos” means, but we’re up there. Given the range it’s probably not a deal breaker, zoos in general are expensive to operate, I get that.
2) Perceived quality is low. Peterson cites TripAdvisor.com for ratings on this one. The Minnesota Zoo comes out second from the bottom.
3) No “marquee” animals. Casual zoo goers want to see lions and tigers and bears. Or zebras, hippos, elephants, that sort of thing. Personally I was thrilled when the Takin exhibit opened. Not often I get to see an animal I’ve never seen or heard of before. But for the casual zoo goer, it’s a goat you see on the way to the grizzlies.
I would add a few more to this list:
4) Over done environmental issues. I always get the feeling I’m being preached at when I’m at the Minnesota Zoo.
5) Animal friendly exhibits are nice for the animals, but not so great for the folks who are there to see the animals. Certainly there’s a happy medium. The Russian Brown Bear exhibit, a newer attraction, did a great job showing the animals in their natural habitat but still allowed the visitors to see them up close and personal. Tigers? Hit or miss if you’re actually going to see more than a flash of orange fur.
6) Discovery Bay. What a disaster. The multimillion dollar facility was built go showcase the zoos pod of dolphins. In addition to the dolphin exhibit it has a massive saltwater tank show casing huge tarpon, sharks, jacks.. it features tide/touch pools and several environmental exhibits. And a snack shack. The facility opened in 1997 (seems like it hasn’t been open that long) and 15 years later the dolphins are gone, and the salt water is corroding the mechanicals in the building. It needs a multimillion dollar overhaul to keep working. To bad someone couldn’t have predicted that salt water would be corrosive, then again we don’t have much salt water up here in Minnesota.
Now the Zoo is talking about big changes. They envision a “destination” attraction with rides and more of the animals I mentioned above. Gone will be the Northern trail, replaced by a African Village and Asian something or other. Up will go the fees and more taxpayer dollars will be spent.. For reference about 22% of the zoos budget, according the Star Tribune, comes from taxpayers.
I love the idea of the nice zoo but frankly, given the track record of misspent funds and declining attendance I think the focus should be changed. I applaud the efforts to see the zoo as more of a tourist attraction rather than an educational resource. In the end people want to see critters and be entertained. Zoo aficionados and zoo keepers need to balance ticket sales with species preservation, research and animal husbandry.
But it all starts with attendance. Which in my mind means cheaper admission fees and a more family friendly environment.\