The Chattanooga Zoo just broke its record for annual attendance and passed the 200,000 visitor mark for 2015.
The zoo had 200,352 visitors last year, well beyond the previous year's record of 170,547, making this the North Holtzclaw Avenue facility's most popular season in its 78-year history.
"New event days, new animals, strong educational programming, and improvements to our facilities are all contributing factors to this year's record-breaking attendance," President and CEO Dardenelle Long said in a news release.
The newly added animals played a large part in driving attendance, employees said. Just last year, two snow leopards, seven chimpanzees, 11 prairie dogs, two servals, one prehensile-tailed porcupine and two radiated tortoises were added to the exhibits.
Two fennec foxes also were born at the zoo.
Hannah Hammon, director of marketing and communications, said the animals are a major draw for visitors, both new and returning, but there are a number of programs and classes that also help bring people in.
"We have so many offerings," she said, "We love to be a huge resource for the community."
As a community resource, the zoo partners with schools to offer field trips or bring animals to school locations, and it also offers learning experiences for guests of all ages.
For those who want to invest a little more time and energy than the typical trip, visitors can even pay to "Snooze in the Zoo" overnight and learn about nocturnal animals.
During normal hours, though, visitors can speak with keepers stationed throughout various exhibits who will teach them with hands-on demonstrations about the animals in their care.
"We want to educate every guest who walks through the gate," Hammon said.
Zookeepers also are actively trying to assist endangered species and ensure there are animals to enjoy in the future.
The radiated tortoises now at the zoo are just one species of animal held in Chattanooga that are a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan. These are animals that are either threatened or endangered and are now being bred in captivity to conserve the species.
Those animals also include snow leopards, fennec foxes and red pandas, all of which are at the Chattanooga Zoo.
Hammon said all those animals may breed this year "if the stars align."
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at email@example.com or 423-757-6731.