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It’s about to cost a lot more to visit the Sacramento Zoo

Shani the giraffe nuzzles her baby, Rocket, who was born at the Sacramento Zoo in April. The zoo is raising admission prices in 2017, in part to improve habitats for its larger animals.
Shani the giraffe nuzzles her baby, Rocket, who was born at the Sacramento Zoo in April. The zoo is raising admission prices in 2017, in part to improve habitats for its larger animals. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Citing the costs of California’s new minimum-wage law and the need for improvements to some of its animal exhibits, the Sacramento Zoo’s board of trustees has voted to significantly raise the price of admission beginning in January.

Daily admission prices to the Land Park institution will increase more than 25 percent, with general admission rising from $11.75 to $14.95. Tickets for seniors will cost $13.95, up from $11 in 2016. Admission for children will rise from $7.75 to $9.95.

The price of the zoo’s Family Pack, which includes unlimited visits for two adults and four children, is increasing more than 40 percent, from $95 to $135. Its Plus Pack, which includes unlimited admission for four adults and four children, as well as multiple tickets for rides and ice cream, is rising more than 60 percent, from $150 to $245. Membership costs for individuals will remain at $40.

Kyle Burks, the zoo’s director and chief executive officer, said the price increases are necessary to maintain “exceptional daily care” for more than 500 animals and to upgrade certain exhibits, in particular the zoo’s habitat for its big cats. A planned project will give the pride of five lions a more complex living environment with hilly terrain, a climbing structure and plenty of shade, Burks said. The zoo’s great apes also are in line for habitat upgrades, he added.

The facility, which is 90 years old, also needs fencing repair and other maintenance, he said.

The rise in California’s minimum wage, currently at $10 per hour, also will affect the zoo’s bottom line. Starting Jan. 1, wages will gradually increase each year for businesses with 26 or more employees, topping out at $15 per hour in 2022.

Burks said more than a quarter of the zoo’s 100 or so employees are paid the minimum wage. “It’s a very real cost that impacts us significantly. It also impacts the organizations that we do business with,” such as produce distributors, he noted. “If they’ve got folks working for them who earn the minimum wage, their costs are going to go up” and be passed onto the zoo, he said. “It’s something we had to anticipate.”

The Sacramento Zoo raised admission prices minimally in 2012 and 2015, Burks said, but not enough to keep up with the costs of running the institution. With a budget of about $6.3 million a year, the zoo is a private nonprofit organization that heavily relies on revenue from admission tickets and memberships.

He said the zoo’s administrators reviewed pricing structures at other Northern California zoos and found the Sacramento facility’s prices to be among the lowest. The Oakland Zoo, for example, charges admission of $14.75 for children and $18.75 for adults, according to its website. The San Francisco Zoo charges $13 for children and $19 for adults.

Editor’s note: This story was changed Dec. 30 to correct admission prices for the San Francisco Zoo.

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert

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