The Gladys Porter Zoo is still going strong on community events after almost 50 years since it opened its doors for the first time in 1971. The zoo, kicked off the events for the season on Saturday with “Kids Appreciation Day.”

“We are the only zoo south of San Antonio, I think we are very fortunate to have this in our very own backyard and we service the entire Valley and beyond,” Charlie Abrego, public relations coordinator at the zoo, said. “The community involvement is great because it keeps us functioning; it keeps us on top of mind, that’s what we want. We are not just a place where we have animals; we are an educational institution.”

The zoo will continue the seasonal events with “Animal Play Day” on Sept. 1, followed by other events such as “Brownsville, Lower Valley and Upper Valley Appreciation Days” where residents of the Valley and lower areas including cities on the Mexican side of the border such as Matamoros get admission for as low as $2.

”Every time you come to the zoo, you’re going to learn something, no matter what,” Abrego said. “Just visiting the zoo, buying a membership, purchasing something from the gift shop or concessions; it really makes a big difference to the zoo … hopefully we will beat the record of 500,000 visitors in one year soon.”

The zoo averages 375,000 visitors annually and one of the biggest events with the most community turnout is “Boo at the Zoo” where hundreds of kids and families receive free candies and enjoy the different activities planned for the two-day festivity on Oct. 30 and 31.

Also planned for the season is “Zoofari 2019” on Oct. 5, “A Salute to our Troops Appreciation Days” Oct. 11 to 13, “Zoo Nights and Lights” Dec. 6 to 8.

“I visited a lot of zoos in Texas and I am always impressed that where we are at here, not a huge city, but we offer so much and I think we forget that,” Abrego said. “People ask me why we don’t have certain things and I ask them ‘When was the last time you visited the zoo?’ and they say ‘oh, when I was in elementary’ and they’re 40 now and that’s why. I always tell people that we should make a commitment as Valley residents to come to the zoo at least once a year; that will make a huge difference.”

Abrego said the zoo is growing and he is excited that there will be new exhibits coming in the future. He said the new exhibits cannot be done overnight but residents can expect to see new and exciting things coming to the zoo.

“We’re growing and the zoo is growing as well. If you come to the zoo there’s a section that is blocked off, those are the new exhibits that are coming, it is nothing that you can do overnight,” he said. “The section where the sea lions used to be, all that is going to be a whole new section of the zoo.”

Another way to help the zoo is by purchasing a membership that range from $60 yearly to $5,000 for a lifetime pass. There are memberships for all types of budgets, family number and preferences.

“The membership is a great way to take advantage of the zoo. You can buy a membership and, I’ll give you an example: a family of five or six, they can buy an $80 family membership at the zoo, they can come, they get two cards for the head of households and their children will be registered in the system, so, every time they come and visit it’s free,” Abrego said. “It is just a one time payment and you get free parking also if you travel and like to visit other zoos, you get discounts and up to free admission at over 200 zoos across the United States.”

For a full list of events and membership prices, visit gpz.org

“Come to our events such as ‘Boo at the Zoo’ and ‘Zoo Nights and Lights’ just help us sustain us for the future,” Abrego said.