Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium continues to win plaudits, and rightly so. The zoo has developed into a top regional tourism draw and an institution respected internationally for its global zoological and ecological work.
The latest praise for the zoo comes via its No. 2 ranking, for the second year in a row, in an annual online USA Today poll. The result is consistent with its high national rankings of America’s best zoos.
The zoo is Nebraska’s No. 1 tourist site and a key economic asset for Omaha. More than 1.6 million people visit the complex each year, generating an annual economic impact exceeding $200 million, including visitor spending on lodging, meals and other items.
City leaders have underscored the zoo’s importance for the city. Mayor Jean Stothert last year proposed, and the City Council unanimously approved, an increase in the City of Omaha’s financial support to the zoo, drawing on keno revenues. The city is committing to give the nonprofit that runs the zoo $2.4 million in 2021, increasing 5.5 percent a year to $3.8 million in 2030.
More than 90,000 households have zoo memberships, an indicator of strong community support and connection.
The zoo stands out as a regional tourist draw. Last year, 36.2% of the zoo’s attendance came from other states — that’s more than 600,000 people. In addition, 13.2% came from Nebraskans who live outside the Omaha metropolitan area; that’s more than 200,000 visitors.
Iowans accounted for 17.1% of 2018 attendance. That’s almost 290,000 visitors.
One of the zoo’s most impressive steps forward comes this month, when the final sections of the 8-acre, $22 million Asian Highlands exhibit open May 17.
Two ascending trails will take visitors past a variety of creatures including sloth bears and goat antelopes. From the top of a hill, visitors will be able to spy on snow leopards and Amur tigers.
The opening will be another innovative addition to an institution known for its ambition and respected for its professionalism. Welcome progress, in short, for a key Omaha and Nebraska asset.