WEST ORANGE, NJ — With a total of 795,558 visitors in 2016, the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo welcomed a new annual attendance record for the 12th-consecutive year and topped the 700,000 mark for the second time.

On behalf of the county, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. thanked the schools, organizations, families, children and others who choose Turtle Back as their destination, stating that their support is the reason for the zoo’s continued success.

“We are extremely humbled by the record number of people who keep coming each year to experience Essex County Turtle Back Zoo,” said DiVincenzo. “It is very gratifying to see the excitement of children running from exhibit to exhibit to get an up-close look at our animals and to realize how we are influencing our next generation of environmental stewards.”

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The zoo hit its new record on Dec. 21 when Larisa Vickers of Bloomfield arrived to see the Holiday Lights Spectacular with her two daughters, Sophia, 2½ years, and Christina, 9 months, and her mother, Nadya Ziboreva.

The year before DiVincenzo took office in 2002, attendance was 168,739. It climbed to 211,449 in 2005 and broke the half-million mark for the first time with 511,655 in 2010. The 600,000 mark was broken for the first time in 2013 when attendance reached 621,838.

The 2016 attendance record shows that 40,319 more visitors passed through the Turtle Back gates than in the previous year, when the total was 755,239.

Opened in 2016 were a new African exhibit featuring giraffes, a covered arena for pony rides and an expanded café building to accommodate the growing crowds. In 2014, a new 12,000-square-foot Education Building with four classrooms was opened and enabled educational, summer camps and special programming to be expanded. In 2013, the Sea Lion Sound exhibit with sea lions, stingrays and sharks opened to commemorate the zoo’s 50th anniversary.

There is also the Treetop Adventure Course, 19-hole miniGOLF Safari and Paddle Boating on the Orange Reservoir that attracts visitors to the area.

According to DiVincenzo, recent exhibits and upgraded facilities added at Turtle Back continually attract visitors. Scheduled to open in 2017 are a new Lion and Hyena Exhibit and Condor Exhibit, along with upgrades to the Scottish Highland Cow and Wolf exhibits.

The Essex County Turtle Back Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Regular admission is $10 for children and senior citizens, $12 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For additional information, call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org.