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Good times at the zoo

Zoos in South Florida and around the country are reporting higher attendance as consumers look for affordable entertainment closer to home.

Nearly 60 percent of the 120-member Association of Zoos and Aquariums reported attendance increases year-over-year in an informal survey in April.

At Metrozoo, spokesman Ron Magill said April had the second-largest turnout for that month in all of zoo history. Until recently, he said, dry and relatively cool weather added to the attraction's popularity.

''People have told us they're not traveling out of town. They're not traveling long distances,'' he said. ``The zoo is really the least expensive of the major attractions in town.''

Attendance in January was about 95,000 -- 40,000 more visitors than January 2008. Then in April, the zoo recorded 111,733 visitors -- nearly double the number for the previous April. Only April 1986, when the grounds were host to several rock concerts, attracted more visitors.

The Palm Beach Zoo in West Palm Beach also drew more visitors this year, although the zoo could not provide specific figures.

''Attendance on the days that it has not rained has been up double digits over last year,'' spokesman Brian Crowley said. He believes it is in part because people are looking for ''staycations'' and because of the zoo's new attractions.

In January, the Palm Beach Zoo presented 3-month-old jaguar cub Maya to the public, the fifth born of jaguars Nabalam and Muchacho.

Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee also has had more visitors this year compared to last, marketing and public relations director Jennifer Berthume said.

Consumers' search for local outings hasn't benefited the Miami Seaquarium, however, spokeswoman Carolina Perrina said. Attendance there is the same as last year. The park hopes to keep attendance over the summer at least at last year's levels.

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