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Busiest year ever for the Henry Doorly Zoo

Posted at 6:06 PM, Nov 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-29 19:09:23-05
Nebraska's most popular tourist attraction had a record-setting day Tuesday as the 2 millionth visitor walked through the gates of the Henry Doorly Zoo – making the busiest year ever at Omaha’s attraction. 
 
The family that pushed the zoo over the mark was greeted by animals and cheering staff.
 
"He likes monkeys and she loves the alligators," said Jacque Keys, referring to her two kids.
 
A day Keys will never forget.
 
“It’s pretty amazing. It’s pretty cool.”
 
As the zoo's 2-millionth visitor, the Keys family will get behind the scenes access and free entrance to all of the zoo's attractions, along with a free 2-year pass.
 
"I can pretty much brag about it because it's the best, what, zoo in the nation?” Keys said. “I can say, 'I'm the 2 millionth visitor.'" 
 
It’s a huge milestone for a zoo that’s among the top three in the nation for its amount of exotic animals.
 
"It makes me happy,” said Zoo Director Dennis Pate. “It makes the staff happy because these are 2 million people who maybe care a little bit more about wildlife because of their visit here." 
 
Pate attributes record attendance to low gas prices, new exhibits and customer experience.
 
"It's building exhibits that are world's best kinds of exhibits that you can't see anywhere else,” Pate said. “You can't go anywhere else and see a desert dome like that. You can't go anywhere else and see an (indoor) jungle and we have those in one place." 
 
Extra money generated by the increased attendance will be used to expand parking and improve some of the zoo’s favorite exhibits, such as the indoor jungle. 
 
“That never ends for me,” Pate said. “I want to see more and more people. I want to do more education. I want to increase our conservation activities so this zoo can make a real difference for animals in the wild." 
 
This year's attendance is significantly higher than its previous record year.
 
In 2012, the zoo had about 1.7 million visitors.