Even though it’s only the second most-visited in the country, Houston’s Zoo is the top attraction in town

Screen shot of Twitter.com/@HoustonZoo's post

Thanks to the Houston Zoo, you can get your necessary dose of cuteness any day of the week.

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After a record setting year, the Houston Zoo is now the second most visited zoo in the nation.

The Houston Zoo began in 1922, when a bison named Earl and his BFF — a deer — once housed at Sam Houston Park, later moved to Hermann Park.

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By the early 2000s, the 55-acre zoo boasted a wide array of animals, as well as a high price tag.

Houston’s City Hall was expected to foot the steep bill, topping $17 million annually — not including maintenance fees and upgrades.

However, the money just wasn’t there.

As the city struggled to support the floundering zoo, some exhibits began to outperform others:

Privately funded exhibits, like the Wortham World of Primates, Janice Seuber McNair Asian Elephant facility and John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo were successful, unlike the outdated exhibits supported by public funds.

To help attract private donations, the zoo became a nonprofit in 2002, with the city still retaining ownership of the property today.

Set up as a nonprofit, the financial structure covers the cost of running the zoo, which allows it to conduct fundraising activities.

The majority of the nation’s zoos and aquariums are public-private partnerships, with donors feeling more comfortable giving money to a nonprofit than to a government.

In the 15 years since the change, the zoo was able to put over $165 million of investments into the zoo, and, thanks to private donors, a majority of the money funneled into capital improvements and new exhibits.

RELATED: Houston Zoo welcomes baby Asian elephant named Joy

The Houston Zoo officially became the top destination in the Bayou City in 2016, with 2.55 million visitors crossing through the zoo’s gates.

In addition to being the biggest attraction in Houston, the numbers also made the zoo the second most popular in the nation after the famed San Diego Zoo.

Houston Zoo CEO Lee Ehmke joked to Houstonia Mag, “I knew it was a big deal when we beat the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.”

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