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Toronto Zoo attendance up due to baby animal boom and good weather

Last Updated Mar 2, 2017 at 5:20 pm EST

A journalist takes a selfie with Alice, a 20-year-old Bactrian Camel native to Mongolia, before a naming ceremony at the Toronto Zoo for two panda cubs on Monday, March 7, 2016. The Toronto Zoo says attendance is up for the first time in several years, which it attributes to a baby animal boom and good weather. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – The Toronto Zoo is citing a baby animal boom as one of the main reasons for its first attendance increase in several years.

In an annual review presented to its board, the city-owned facility said more than 1.3 million people visited the zoo in 2016, an increase of nearly 170,000 people compared to those who came to the zoo the previous year.

“It was a very good year,” said zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Tracey.

Attendance had been declining at the zoo since 2013, when the facility had seen a boost due to the arrival of two pandas from China.

For 2016, the zoo cited several cubs — two pandas, four white lions and a polar bear — along with a rhinoceros calf as among main reasons for its attendance bump.

The new panda cubs, named Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, even drew Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other politicians for a cuddle session at the zoo last spring.

According to results of the zoo’s 2016 on-site visitor survey, 37.7 per cent of respondents said they visited the facility because of the panda exhibit, 31 per cent said they went explicitly to see the panda cubs and a further 17 per cent said baby animals in general drew them there. The remaining respondents said they visited the zoo for other attractions.

Babies weren’t the only reason for the boost in attendance.

“The weather is also a huge factor,” Tracey said. “We had great fall weather.”

The zoo had its third-highest October attendance since it opened in 1974 when 93,145 people visited, according to the report. And the following month was its best November on record when 46,638 came out.

Tracey said a hot, dry summer also had an impact.

“Rain, or even the threat of rain will make people change their plans for the day,” she said.

As it plans for the year ahead, the zoo noted that many of its popular baby animals are leaving the facility after growing up.

The panda cubs, as well as the adult pandas, are scheduled to leave for the Calgary Zoo in March 2018, the white lion cubs have already left for a park in Quebec and Juno, the now-large polar bear, just left for Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park on Wednesday, Tracey said.

So the zoo is looking at the possibility of more babies.

“I am hopeful that there will be success with conservation breeding programs this year,” Tracey said.

She also touted the upcoming opening of its “Wildlife Health Centre” that is scheduled to open some time this spring.

“There will be a public viewing area into some of the labs where they can see our reproductive technologists at work, x-rays, surgical suites and where they run a lot of the lab work,” Tracey said.

The 2016 attendance boost led to increased revenues at the zoo, Tracey said, but the facility still needed a City of Toronto subsidy to balance the books.