A Parsippany family got an unexpected holiday gift when they visited Essex County's in West Orange this week.
Expecting to see the 100,000 , the family walked into the zoo and unknowingly set a milestone — they were the zoo's 511,656th visitor this year.
In 2010, the zoo passed the half million visitor mark for the first time and rounded out the year with 511,655 visitors. This year, annual attendance reached an all time high and set a new record for the seventh year in a row, county officials announced.
To mark the accomplishment, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., Essex County Park's Director Dan Salvante and zoo director Dr. Jeremy Goodman were on hand to greet the family and distribute a gift basket filled with toys, stuffed animals and Turtle Back Zoo memorabilia. The family also received a one-year membership to the Essex County Zoological Society.
"This is so unexpected. This is a great surprise," said Ravi Iyer who visited the zoo with his wife and two daughters.
"The kids love it. Our favorite areas are the new Big Cat Exhibit and the Red Panda. Our children enjoy coming here because there's always something new to see," Hema Mani, Iyer's wife, said.
County officials said a new attendance record has been set every year since 2005 when more than 200,000 visitors came. About 300,000 came in 2006 and more than 400,000 in 2007.
"We have made tremendous improvements to Turtle Back Zoo and the large turnout of visitors show how popular our zoo has become. Introducing new natural habitat exhibits like the and Gibbons Apes, along with our Carousel, , miniGOLF Safari and Train Ride attractions make coming to Turtle Back Zoo a fun, learning adventure for children and families," DiVincenzo said in a statement. "We look forward to seeing everyone in 2012 for even more adventures, excitement and family fun."