It’s official: The Akron Zoo was really, really popular last year.
Friday’s announcement that the zoo had more visitors last year than any other time in its history was hardly a surprise. The zoo had announced in early December that it had eclipsed the previous record of 328,953 set in 2008.
But the final tally of 332,960 visitors in 2012 was great news for zoo officials as they enjoyed a 5.5 percent increase in visitors over 2011, when 315,728 people passed through the gates.
Officials credit the endangered snow leopard cubs born in May and an octopus named Cora, along with some other creatures from the sea in the Journey to the Reef exhibit, for helping to set the attendance record.
The most popular month at the zoo was August, with 58,166 visitors. The biggest day was Oct. 21, when 5,431 visitors took in the first day of activities in the annual Boo at the Zoo event.
“With an increase in our attendance comes more opportunity to educate an even greater number of people about wildlife and conservation and provide them with a fun learning environment,” zoo President and CEO Patricia Simmons said in a prepared statement.
And with the planned opening this summer of the Mike & Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge area, Simmons said, the zoo is hoping for another busy year.
The zoo began work on the $7.7 million Grizzly Ridge — billed as one of the largest expansion projects in its history — in 2011. It will cover about 3.5 acres and will be home to more than six animal species never before seen at the Akron Zoo, including black bears, red wolves and coyotes.
The area also will be the new home for the zoo’s collection of river otters and bald eagles.
Several older exhibits were removed to make way for construction, including an exhibit built in 1918 that housed Alaskan brown bears and Russian brown bears, even before the zoo was built in 1953. The exhibit has been empty for about 10 years.
Monkey Island, built in 1960, also was removed, along with two waterfowl ponds, two tortoise exhibits and the river otter exhibit.
Winter hours at the zoo are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $6. Children under 2 are free. Parking costs $2.
For more information, visit www.akronzoo.org or call 330-375-2550.