Buffalo Zoo Under Fire for Raising Rates, but Discounting Entry for Low-Income Visitors

News & Politics

The Buffalo Zoo in New York has come under fire for raising the price of admission while adding new discounts for low-income visitors under a new “Zoo for All” program.

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The “Zoo for All” program “is designed to ensure everyone has the opportunity to experience the wonders and educational benefits of visiting the Zoo,” the Buffalo Zoo said in a statement. “The Buffalo Zoo worked with many community partners and leaders to develop a program that removes financial barriers and provides a variety of inclusive experiences, making the Zoo accessible and affordable to all members of the community.”

“We believe the magic of all the animal world should be shared by everyone,” says Buffalo Zoo President and CEO, Lisa Smith. “The Zoo for All program allows families of all backgrounds to connect with wildlife, fostering a love of nature and appreciation for conservation.”

The Zoo for All Program provides discounted admission to qualified low-income families and individuals who present their SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. Other discounts are available, and the program also includes free or reduced pricing days, supported by sponsorships throughout the year.

However, the new program comes at the same time the zoo has increased the standard rates. While low-income visitors will only have to pay $5 for entry, the new in-season prices (applicable from May 25 to September 1) are $25.95 for adults, $19.95 for children, and $22.95 for seniors. In the off-season, those prices are $21.95 for adults, $15.95 for children and $18.95 for seniors. The previous year-round rates were $17.95 for adults, $13.95 for children and $15.95 for seniors.

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The new off-season admission rates are $4 cheaper across the board.

“Raising prices is hard and unavoidable,” Smith said Thursday during a news conference. “The zoo has operated with a fiscal responsibility, keeping it top of mind, and managed to stay within our means to the best of our ability. But inflation and costs of goods and services keep going up.”

The zoo received $2 million in aid from the Erie County Legislature this year, but Smith noted that 80% of the zoo’s revenue is self-generated from admissions, rides, parking fees, and contributions from donors. According to Smith, 80% of the zoo’s visitors last year took advantage of some discount, membership, or program for access to the zoo. 

While the “Zoo for All” claims to “ensure everyone has the opportunity” to visit the zoo, the new standard rates have turned a family staple into an expensive outing that may be too much for middle class visitors to swallow, particularly at a time when inflation is already making it difficult for them to make ends meet.

Naturally, the new rates and low-income discounts drew partisan reactions from local elected leaders.

Erie County Republicans called the new rate “outrageous” in the letter and said the new prices “eliminates the affordability of a day trip to the zoo for most middle-class families.”

“For a family like mine, I’m a family of six, for us to go to the zoo is just shy of $200, and that’s before I buy a single concession or gift shop item,” Republican legislator Chris Greene (Clarence) said Thursday. “For me, it’s something that I would really have to budget for.”

County Republicans wouldn’t have the power to pull public funding for the zoo without help from across the aisle, however.

Erie County Democrats are commending the zoo’s decision to introduce the low-income pricing, adding that the price will help them keep operating.

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What it really does is force middle-income visitors to bear the burden of subsidizing lower-income visitors in the name of inclusivity. Even a family of four is going to have to pay nearly $100 (before taxes) just to get into the zoo. At a time when Americans are paying more for gas and groceries, suddenly, a trip to the zoo doesn’t seem like its worth it.

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