Riverbanks Zoo draws 1.4 million annually, “Top 5” zoo in the country, says Stringfellow

Tommy Stringfellow, Zoo CEO/President – Photos by Terry Ward

Riverbanks Zoo is one of the top five  zoos in the country and it’s the top attraction in South Carolina based on annual attendance.

That was the news from Tommy Stringfellow. He is the zoo’s president and CEO. He has been with the zoo for 16 years and took over as president and CEO  last August after the retirement of Satch Krantz. Stringfellow spoke at the Greater Cayce-West Columbia Chamber Breakfast at 300 Senate Street on Tuesday.

Stringfellow said the zoo attracts nearly 1.4 million visitors.

“We’re the largest zoo in the Southeast,” said Stringfellow. Riverbanks outdraws the popular Memphis Zoo, and it attracts more visitors than the zoos in Atlanta, Jacksonville, Miami and North Carolina.

Stringfellow said 60 percent of the traffic Riverbaks gets comes from more than 50 miles away from Columbia.

The zoo recently completed a $40 million upgrade to the facility, which includes a new entrance. It has a $15.8 million operating budget, almost 70 percent of which is generated by the zoo.

The latest addition to the animal population is the zoo’s new baby gorilla.

“We don’t know if it’s male or female yet,” said Stringfellow because the baby gorilla’s mother will not let go of her baby while the gorilla is so young.

Stringfellow said the zoo plans to have a naming contest for the gorilla at the appropriate time. The zoo allowed bidders to name the zoo’s latest baby giraffe.

Stringfellow also said the zoo now packages and sells 1,400 pounds a year of elephant waste as fertilizer under the name Compoost.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Columbia, Richland County