Zoo visitor numbers go wild, bucking Scottish tourism downturn

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ZOOS in Scotland have been bucking a trend that has seen visitor numbers at tourist attractions fall sharply over the previous year.

Unlike museums, art galleries and castles that have generally experienced a drop in visitors, Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park both saw a rise in numbers.

Visitors to Edinburgh Zoo rose by 10 per cent, to 650,000. Highland Wildlife Park in Inverness-shire attracted 23 per cent more people, with 80,000 visitors during 2008.

Bosses at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) think new star attractions such as the 5.5 million Budongo Trail at Edinburgh Zoo, which is believed to be the biggest chimp enclosure in the world, and the arrival of exotic animals such as tigers to the Highland Wildlife Park could be behind the rise in numbers.

They also think during the recession more people could be opting to spend time at home rather than travelling overseas.

David Windmill, chief executive of RZSS, said: "People still want to get out and have a day out with the family even though they don't have quite as much money, and I think the zoo provides that."

He hopes the arrival of Mercedes, the only polar bear in the UK, at Highland Wildlife Park, will help encourage even more people to visit over the coming year. She is being transferred from Edinburgh Zoo to the park, where she will have a larger enclosure.

Five Sisters Zoo Park in West Lothian has also seen a rise in visitors over the past few months, according to its owners.

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