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Oregon Zoo cashes in on dinosaur fever

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The Latest
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
By Jacq Lacy

The Oregon Zoo has extended its animatronic "Prehistoric Predator" exhibit an extra month due to popularity and financial success. The animals will return to extinction on October 3.


In 2008, dinosaurs debuted at the Oregon Zoo under the zoo directorship of Tony Vecchio. His goal of authenticity brought dinosaurs that look so real they scare small children. Vecchio decided to place life-like and life-size dinosaurs within the zoo to excite and entice kids of all ages. The 2008 exhibit provided the rain forest path and building infrastructure used in the current exhibit. This eliminated the majority of the structural startup costs.

Since May 22, over 165,000 people have visited the 2010 dinosaur exhibit. Not surprising, since the zoo has experienced its largest attendance numbers this year, serving about 1.6 million people.

The Metro Regional Government operates the zoo with funding from a tax base through Metro, zoo admissions, concessions, contributions, special promotions, the Oregon Zoo Foundation and grants. All money made from the Prehistoric Predators exhibit directly benefits the Oregon Zoo.

Each day the exhibit sold an average of $4,330 in ticket sales at $3.50 per person. Since the opening of the exhibit the zoo recouped its expenses and netted approximately $250,000.

Wells Fargo, long-time supporter of zoo efforts and the main sponsor of the exhibit, donated $45,000 to the Prehistoric Predators exhibit to help with startup and maintenance. Maintenance and labor for the exhibit runs $572 per day.

Billings Productions in McKinney, Texas, the company that makes the dinosaurs, loaned the Zoo the massive predators for an initial $200,000 and extended the lease an extra month for $30,000. This year the family-owned company shipped over 200 dinosaurs to 12 locations worldwide, including France and the United Arab Emirates.

“With Billings there’s no á la carte with the dinosaurs," Lori Ford, Oregon Zoo special projects manager, said. "It’s kind of doing the package. The more dynamic the dinosaur, the more you are going to be investing."

The collection at the Oregon Zoo hosts unfamiliar predators. The 17 dinosaurs do not include the typical T-Rex or triceratops.

“What fascinates me is how you can create this exhibit with unique dinosaurs and yet kids that come into the exhibit know the dinosaurs. They educate their parents. They know the dinosaurs far better than any of us combined,” Ford said.

For the current dinosaur exhibit the zoo’s guest services presented a temporary exhibit proposal to the senior team for approval. They had to show that the exhibit would provide a good guest experience, benefit the zoo, and match the zoo's mission, Kim Smith, director of the Oregon Zoo, said.

“Dinosaurs make sense," Smith said. "They are past living animals. They have connections to modern day predators of lions, tigers and bears...birds are also modern day dinosaurs and our collection incorporates the speckled mouse bird, a bird that has not changed in a million years.”

Smith said the additional ticket costs to view models of extinct animals help the zoo take better care of living animals.

“All of the money goes to the care of our animals. That’s why we do different revenue things throughout the year... keeping our animals well cared for, keeping our conservation programs going, having our gates open to the public, but it's really about providing care to the animals. We’re a business and we have a great mission,” Smith said.

Jacq Lacy is an associate writer for Oregon Business.


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