Arboreta and Botanical or Zoological Gardens

SIC 8422

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in operating arboreta, botanical gardens, zoological gardens, and/or zoological exhibits.

Industry Snapshot

As of March 2012, 214 zoos, aquariums, and wildlife parks in 48 states were accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). These establishments were visited by almost 180 million people, outnumbering the combined attendance of the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball. Of these visitors, more than 50 million were children, making zoos and aquariums one of the most family-oriented industries in the United States. The growth and stability of this industry depends largely on the government's surplus funds and on the ability of U.S. families to afford to visit. This industry is closely linked to family entertainment and tourism. Therefore, zoos, aquariums, and wildlife parks faced tough financial times during the late years of the first decade of the 2000s when the U.S. economy sunk into a deep recession, causing philanthropic giving to decline significantly. By the start of the second decade of the twenty-first century, however, the industry was looking forward to a recovery.

This industry is organized according to the ownership and management of its establishments. There are five types of establishments: those owned and managed by the government (usually city and community), those owned by the government but managed by a nonprofit society, those owned by the government but jointly managed with a nonprofit society, those owned and managed by a nonprofit society, and those that are privately owned by corporations and individuals. In 2012 about 54 percent of the establishments in this industry were nonprofit, 35 percent were public, and 11 percent were for-profit.

Internal management at these establishments was once loosely structured, often combining volunteers with city and privately hired employees. However, during the early 1990s, the various types of owners developed new, more business-like management styles to meet the competitive market. The San Diego Zoo, for example, went from managing 50 departments, such as animal keeping and maintenance, to managing diversified teams that claimed responsibility for one particular section of the zoo. Zoos have also modified their focus from merely allowing visitors to view animals to providing educational and hands-on opportunities.

Zoos constantly work to have more exciting, more natural habitat-like exhibits as well. Additionally, many zoos are heavily involved with the Species Survival Plan (SSP) program sponsored by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).

The industry is served by many associations, including the AZA; the American Association of Zoo Keepers; and the Consortium of Aquariums, Universities, and Zoos. These organizations reflect well on the industry. The AZA reported that in the early 2010s, its members were involved in 300 Species Survival Programs. The American Public Gardens Association (APGA), originally known as the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (AABGA), had 500 member institutions worldwide from its founding in 1940 until the early 2010s, with all 50 states represented.

Background and Development

The concept of the public zoo began in the mid-1800s. Prior to that time, zoos were the private property, and sign of power, of kings and queens. However, with the growth of cities and the subsequent increase in the population's leisure time, zoos provided urban dwellers the opportunity to be closer to nature and wildlife and also served as a form of entertainment. Nearly the same can be said for botanical gardens and arboreta, but their origins as public facilities date back to Renaissance Europe. At this time, sculptured gardens were adopted as public art for the middle classes in Italy and later in England.

The first zoo in the United States was opened in 1876 by the Philadelphia Zoological Society as part of America's centennial exposition. Other major U.S. zoos also had their origins in international expositions, which often included animal exhibits from overseas. Zoos in the United States experienced considerable growth and restoration during the 1930s. Public works projects allowed new exhibits and landscaped grounds for zoos to be built. It was also during the 1930s that U.S. zoos developed children's zoos, where children could learn about small animals through direct contact, such as petting, holding, and feeding the animals. These so-called petting zoos are now a standard feature at wildlife facilities around the world.

During the 1980s, the increase in attendance at U.S. zoos and botanical gardens was dramatic. The major wildlife facilities in the United States and Canada reported a 20 percent rise in attendance between 1980 and 1987. This increase beyond expected growth has been explained by three factors: baby-boom parents brought their children to facilities for educational reasons; establishments spent millions of dollars during the late 1970s and early 1980s upgrading their facilities, often as part of urban renewal projects; and the growth in city and suburban populations meant more attendance at local facilities.

In the 1990s, attendance leveled off, when U.S. zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens faced new financial problems as a result of less government funding and an increase in competition from theme parks and newly built aquariums. These concerns have been addressed with an increased emphasis on fund-raising campaigns and continued marketing for sales revenues. In 1997, expenses for zoos were $1.1 billion, while revenues were only $127.9 million. Nature parks had revenues of $129.4 million and expenses of only $107.5 million.

With increased competition within the arboreta and botanical or zoological gardens, establishments have become more involved in advertising their facilities. Each kind of facility has a different type of market. Zoos and botanical gardens are generally visited by local residents, while aquariums, which are more rare, are visited most often by tourists. Traditionally, marketing in this industry was low key. Zoological societies appealed to a small number of potential donors, and government zoos relied on a predictable portion of the government budget. However, the growth of U.S. cities limited city budgets, and an increase in competition from theme parks and other forms of family entertainment made these establishments invest considerably more in marketing starting in the late 1970s. Zoos saw their attendance increase with the birth of a new animal or the acquisition of certain endangered species. Promoting these events became an essential part of the marketing package for zoos and aquariums. In 1995, for example, the San Diego Zoo spent roughly $1.5 million on advertising annually.

Aquariums in the United States have advertised with the help of retail stores. Aquariums played an important part in the redevelopment of many of U.S. urban waterfronts where they have been placed near shopping districts and malls. In addition, these aquariums, even if privately owned, often received funding from their local governments. One of the largest aquariums in the United States, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, was built from a renovation of a sardine cannery. Zoos and aquariums have also attempted to increase their market share by expanding their facilities to include theme parks with rides and activities, such as video programs and birthday parties for the animals.

During the mid-2000s, zoos and aquariums depended primarily on earned revenue and donations, with 21 percent of funding coming from government sources. In 2006, $100 million in funding came from private memberships. The uncertainty of fundraising efforts during the early 2000s led more zoos to seek financial support from voters. The AZA found that zoos were requesting community support through bonds, property taxes, and sales taxes, measures that provide more stable income. Maintenance and renovation costs, as well as the need to show financial well-being for AZA accreditation, often motivated such appeals.

Many of the country's best-known zoos were built during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and questions were raised over whether they could continue to provide proper homes for animals. Suitable climate, adequate space, and the psychological effects of captivity were debated. Several events in the mid-2000s created negative publicity for zoos. In 2003, a 300-pound gorilla named Little Joe escaped his enclosure at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo and was not captured until after he had reached the street. The poor health of elephants at several zoos suggested that the popularity of some animals kept them in unsuitable climates, sacrificing their health for the sake of attendance. From 2001 to 2006, major zoos, including those in San Francisco and Detroit, decided to stop exhibiting elephants completely. Furthermore, the deaths of nine animals in 2005 at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo resulted in two investigations of conditions at the facility. Wealthier zoos were able to expand "enrichment" programs, where animals are given activities to improve their physical and mental health, but most struggled with tight budgets.

At the same time, zoos are responsible for providing safe havens for endangered species such as Siberian tigers and California condors. In these two cases, there are more animals held in captivity than living in the wild. Some zoos have respected conservation programs that operate in the field, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society based out of the Bronx Zoo. The AZA reported in 2003 that 109 mammal, 23 bird, 13 reptilian and amphibian, 12 fish, and 4 invertebrate species were protected under the Species Survival Plan.

U.S. zoos and botanical gardens faced uncertain economic conditions during the late 2000s as the economy became mired in a recession. The bottom fell out of the residential housing market and, as property values dropped, so did the tax base for many zoos and gardens. For example, in Detroit, which experienced over 50,000 home foreclosures in 2008 alone, the Detroit Zoological Society saw a 30 percent drop in philanthropic giving and anticipated that revenues from taxes would decline by 10 to 15 percent in 2010 and 2011 due to declining property values. In addition, both individual and corporate donations had declined as both consumers and businesses cut back on spending.

However, the dip in the economy actually helped the industry in a way by keeping families closer to home and looking for less expensive entertainment. Zoos and botanical gardens fit the bill. For example, despite its drop in giving, the Detroit Zoological Society anticipated a bump of an additional 100,000 visitors during fiscal 2010, which translates into an extra $1 million in revenues. According to a June 2009 survey conducted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, more than one-half of the association's 120 members responding reported year-over-year attendance increases.

Even the country's leading zoos, such as San Diego Zoo & Wildlife Park, which has more than 4.5 million visitors and $200 million in revenues annually, were looking to the future to continue to fund its operations. Although in a strong financial position despite the recession, the San Diego Zoo branched out to create new revenue sources such as long-term business consulting, conference events, and expos showcasing eco-friendly products. Other zoos followed suit, offering more peripheral services to businesses and groups to create new streams of revenue.

Current Conditions

In 2012, the 214 AZA-accredited sites in the United States included 141 zoos, 37 aquariums, 9 zoos/aquariums, 19 safari and theme parks, 15 science and nature centers, 2 aviaries, and 1 butterfly house. Together these places housed 751,931 from more than 6,000 different species, including 1,000 endangered species.

In 2011, the International Business Times rated the San Diego Zoo as the number one zoo in the United States, followed by Disney's Animal Kingdom, Waikiki Aquarium (in Hawaii), the Philadelphia Zoo, and the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo. Also in the top 10 were Lowry Park Zoo (Florida), the Bronx Zoo (New York), the Maryland Zoo, and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center (Texas).

Industry Leaders

The San Diego Zoo & Wildlife Park is one of the world's largest and most innovative zoos. The 100-acre zoo contains over 4,000 animals from over 800 species. The zoo also includes Wild Animal Park, an 1,800-acre wildlife sanctuary with more than 3,500 animals. The Bronx Zoo, sitting on 265 acres, is the country's largest metropolitan zoo and holds some 4,000 animals. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is the second-oldest zoo in the United States. It opened in 1875, just 14 months after the Philadelphia Zoo. Known for its successful breeding programs of rare animals (such as cheetahs, black rhinoceroses, and white Bengal tigers), the Cincinnati Zoo contains one of the country's largest botanical gardens, with more than 3,000 types of flowers, trees, and plants.


According to the AZA, this industry supported 142,000 jobs in 2011. In addition, AZA members depended on some 60,000 volunteers who invested over 3 million hours annually in their local zoos and aquariums. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $57,430 in 2011.

Animal caretakers include the occupations of zoo caretaker and zoo veterinarian. Zoo caretakers feed, water, and clean the quarters of animals and birds, and also work closely with zoo veterinarians on diets and medications for animals. Zoo veterinarians direct and carry out the health service program at a zoo. Their responsibilities include testing all incoming animals for the prevention of diseases, providing needed medical attention for animals, and conducting reproduction programs for endangered species.

Gardeners include horticulturists, herbarium workers, and garden workers. Horticulturists determine methods for breeding, storing, and transporting plants, including flowers and vegetables, and trees. These specialists are also responsible for the techniques used in spraying, planting, and cultivating plants and trees. Herbarium workers maintain the records of botanical gardens and arboreta by pressing and mounting plant specimens, which are then kept on file for loans and exchanges with other establishments. Garden workers cultivate and care for floral and ornamental plant arrangements. Their duties include fertilizing, watering, and transplanting flowers and plants in greenhouses and outdoor growing areas.

America and the World

Worldwide, there are roughly 1,500 botanical gardens and arboreta and more than 3,000 zoos and aquariums. In general, the United States has fewer gardens and arboreta and more zoos and aquariums per capita than countries overseas. In Europe, the royal palaces, combined with less extreme weather, have kept botanical gardens an important part of the tourism industry. As for zoos and aquariums, the general discrepancies between the United States and other countries can be explained to a large extent by the availability of open spaces in U.S. cities and the availability of larger funds through the family entertainment industry, which often work with zoo and aquarium operators to create theme parks.

The AZA accredited zoos and related organizations in seven other countries, as of 2012, including four in Canada, two in Mexico, and one each in Argentina, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Hong Kong. Though it had no U.S.-accredited sites, Japan had a very high number of zoos and aquariums. There were 90 zoos and 70 aquariums associated with the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Zoos drew more than 40 million visitors and aquariums draw 27 million visitors annually.

Research and Technology

Research in this industry includes the development of environmentally safe sprays and chemicals used in the soil at botanical gardens and arboreta. Aquariums witnessed technological advances in the construction of their tanks, addressing such problems as materials resistant to salt water damage. Zoos investigated ways of making zoo environments more like natural habitats without posing dangers to the public. In addition, they continually strove to improve their care of animals with advances in veterinary medicine.

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