Sedgwick Co. Zoo breaks annual attendance record despites challenges

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – 2016 has been a record year for the Sedgwick County Zoo.

This, after a couple years of tense relations between the zoo and county officials.

During the Christmas weekend, the zoo exceeded more than 700,000 people in total attendance. The most visitors the zoo has ever seen in one year.

“We didn’t really expect to get to 700,000,” says Deputy Director Ryan Gulker.

Gulker says the success is a combination of things. Good weather, the quality of each exhibit, and of course the new elephants of the Zambezi River, which the county put more than $5 million towards in 2014.

“In fact, most of the zoo staff want to say that it is one of the best elephant exhibits, if not the best elephant exhibits, in the world,” says Gulker.

And the elephants demanded everyone’s attention Wednesday,

“It looked like a family that was fighting about who got the ball into the water,” says one visitor.

But zoo funding has also been in the spot light. In 2015, commissioners voted and gave the zoo $150,000 in contingency funds, the zoo was expecting more than $380,000 that year. It’s a fight that at least one of the new commissioners hopes to avoid in 2017.

“Every one of those people that come in from out-of-town stay in hotels, motels, they buy food here from our restaurants and they go shopping in our shopping centers.”

Commissioner elect David Dennis says he doesn’t agree with fellow commissioners who want to see more county representation on the zoo board.

“The current configuration of the zoo board has worked well over the years.”

This is also an important time for the zoo because they are now beginning a national search to replace the zoo director.