Monday, February 13, 2017

Ryviews in Real Life - The Oakland Zoo

Hi Everybody!

I recently went to the Oakland Zoo for the first time. The only thing I saw on Yelp reviews beforehand was that it was small for a city of this size. I thought "hey, I have a free day. Let's check it out!"

Well, let me tell you...

It's small for a city of this size.

Let's start with the ticket price. It costs $10 for parking and $20-ish for admission (although with my membership to the Houston Zoo I got in for $10 at the door). Moving at a zoo-ly pace it took me about an hour and fifteen minutes to see everything.

Now, to put that in a bit of context: The Houston zoo, which probably has at least twice as many enclosures (and takes me at least 2-3 hours to see everything), is the same ticket price and has free parking. The St. Louis Zoo, which I believe is even bigger than the Houston Zoo, is free to get in.

I'm not here to split hairs about how expensive a Zoo should be, but I want to point out that Oakland is certainly on the expensive side. And it was a small, fairly lackluster experience. The enclosures were mostly nice, but they were certainly poorly designed for zooing. It seems like someone mistook "size" for "quality". Several of them were far too big to be able to see anything, and the viewing paths or nooks for people did not provide adequate coverage to view the animals. And on at least a few instances, it took several minutes to navigate from one viewing point to another, and even then it was difficult to get your bearings again and the animals had usually moved in the time it took. I know animals might want privacy, but plenty of zoos are able to make it so the entire time they're out for people to see, people can actually see them.

Positive Note: The squirrel monkeys were easily the cutest animals I've seen in a long time [2]

Then there's the path you take through the zoo. Wouldn't you think it would be nice to have a bit of a circuit? Wander through clockwise or counter clockwise and see everything on the outskirts? And have a nice inner loop for things in the middle. Or have solid trail or markers? Nope. The Oakland Zoo is full of one way paths, dead ends, and confusing signage. Trying to navigate in a logical fashion was a nightmare.

And back to the enclosures for a bit. There were some where they just jammed 8 different birds into one big caged segment. Maybe it's nice to have friends, sure, but it made it very difficult to know what the hell was going on. And it seemed like they just jammed them together for cost cutting. The same thing happened with some of their savannah area, where one spot would have a dozen or so animals from 3-4 different complete different species and it was just thrown together. And it's not like this Zoo is cramped. There's a lot of free space around it and the walking paths were pretty wide.

Plus, none of the food kiosks were open throughout the park. There was one cafe at the front that had food. Every other stand or restaurant? Shuttered. It's a freaking weekend, a beautiful day, and it was full of families with what I can only assume would have been kids begging for ice cream or popcorn. Instead, I didn't get any soft pretzels or overpriced soda as I walked around. A missed opportunity for revenue, for sure.

Seriously, this is like 40% of the reason I go to any sporting event or outdoor attraction [3]

I like what Zoos try to accomplish. It appreciate that they raise awareness for endangered species, and that they support conservation methods. And I even understand that a high ticket price is essentially just a larger donation to support those efforts. But at the end of the day, you want to get more people flowing through the zoo. You want people engaged, and you want people excited to attend. And if you can get more throughput, then you could still net higher with a lower ticket price. With such a high price and such a low return on the investment, you'll drive people away or leave them unsatisfied, which doesn't help the environment or the animals.

The Houston Zoo does wonderful things with a small amount of space. The St. Louis Zoo proves it can cater to the community without charging admission. The Oakland Zoo is just sloppy. It's thrown together seemingly without much forethought and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth because it cost me more than a movie theater (and once again, without the popcorn, so that's 2).

If you want to serve your community, Oakland Zoo, step up your game. Have a logical route, straighten out some of your enclosures so it's easier to see what's happening, and lower your ticket price. If you want to support conservation or whatever else, you need people to engage. And I can tell you, I never plan on going back to this Zoo. Once was plenty. I'll go to the numerous other zoos I've been to around this country that show more care for the zoo attendee experience. Because those are the one I want to support.

Until next time,


PS I apologize if this is too snarky. But seriously, take a look at any of the top 20 zoos in the country. Oakland deserves better.

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