Lion at the Milwaukee County Zoo

We were members of the Milwaukee County Zoo for a decade. It made sense because we lived only a half-mile away. Now we live close to the Kansas City Zoo. Since we’re on the Kansas side, we also live fairly close to the Topeka Zoo. After reading a lot about zoos in the region, it seems the Omaha and St. Louis zoos are top-notch. Since our kids still love the zoo, I figured I’d look into getting the best deal possible in order to get into all of the zoos at some point, but zoo reciprocity is confusing.

Kansas City Zoo

A family pass would cost us $100. The reciprocity list implies free admission to many of the zoos we might visit, including Milwaukee when we go home. However, there seems to be little certainty, so I’d have to call the other zoos to make sure. Plus, $100 is expensive if it only works at 50% admission to other zoos. Here's what the KC zoo membership page says about other zoos:

Enjoy free admission to the Kansas City Zoo as well as discounted admission at 150+ partner zoos and aquariums.

"Discounted" implies there are no fully-reciprocal zoos on the KC list, right?

Omaha Zoo

It’s too far to visit more than once a year, and the membership would be $120, so it’s not in the running. It uses the same reciprocity list as several other zoos.

Topeka Zoo

Here’s where it gets more confusing. A link from the Topkeka zoo site shows KC at 100%. A forum post implied the KC zoo is at 50%, and Milwaukee is listed as only 50% on Topeka’s list of reciprocal zoos. It’s even more confusing that the list used by Topeka is from the same AZA website as the KC, MKE, and others. Same  published date, too, just with Milwaukee listed as 50%, though Milwaukee's reciprocity list shows Topeka at 100%. The reason why this membership would be awesome if it worked at KC and Omaha is that it’s only $50 for the family, but it's just difficult to know without calling several zoos to find out.

Milwaukee County Zoo

A family pass is $85. That’s less than KC or Omaha, and we could continue to support the zoo at which we shared many memories. Again, MCZ offers the same reciprocity pdf as KC, Omaha, and others. However, the MCZ zoosociety website only rates KC and Omaha at 50%.

Salisbury Zoo

This was an interesting one. I had an Entertainment Book coupon for 20% off any membership. It’s a free zoo in Maryland, but you can buy a family membership to get 4 tickets to reciprocal zoos for $45. Minus 20% = $36. The problem here is that it might take some time to get the membership, since I’d have to mail the coupon. Also, as a free zoo membership, it might not really apply as full discounts to other zoos. And, the Salisbury list is a pdf from 2014.

St. Louis Zoo

This is a free zoo that has a $90 family membership that’s supposed to offer the same reciprocity as other zoo memberships. The best part about the St. Louis Zoo is that it explains the confusion a bit:

When the reciprocity lists "100% & 50%," that organization has the option to either charge 50% of their admission to our members or to allow our members free admission. That decision resides with the partner organization, and the Saint Louis Zoo does not control what our partners are able to offer. Please contact the organization prior to your visit to learn of their offer.

AZA Website

I also looked into a family membership right from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but the website does not offer such a thing. I think this would be a good idea myself: one price that provides free admission to any member zoo for the year. No phone calls or questions.

It all reminds me of the time I bought a National Parks Pass from a European tourism website. It was about half price and meant for Europeans, but I ordered and received it, anyhow. Or when we ordered tickets for Disney World via a children’s hospital charity, saving us 20% or so. I’m probably overthinking the whole thing, but if you look at the next five or ten years of getting into zoos all around the country, maybe it’s worth the effort, though any membership seems to be only a discount card to about half the zoos on the list. Milwaukee’s page listing 50% zoos might be a good one to use as a guide. Adding to the confusion is that this list is only available on the Zoo Society page, not the main MCZ page. Then again, it could be that each zoo sets up its own reciprocity from each other individual zoo. Then it’s really confusing, especially since it does not appear to be published. On top of all this, your local zoo might not even be a member of the AZA.

As for me, I sent an email to the Kansas City Zoo in order to see if at least the Topeka Zoo was 100% reciprocal (or if they had a full list). Here’s what I asked:


We have been zoo members with the Milwaukee County Zoo for a decade. We now live near Kansas City Zoo but on the Kansas side. We are looking to get a membership to a local zoo. However, zoo reciprocal programs are confusing. For example, if we stayed with Milwaukee's pass, we would only receive 50% discount at your zoo.

The question is this: do you have an inclusive list that shows actual discounts from other zoos rather than the confusing pdf from aza?

If you don't have such a list, can you at least tell me what reciprocity is for some zoos near me? I live near enough to Topeka to consider a membership there. Would it be 100% or 50% to KC?

Also, I'd be interested in any reason why Milwaukee seems to be 100% reciprocal with Topeka but only 50% with KC or Omaha, and why Milwaukee seems to be one of the only zoos I can find that actually publishes a list with actual amounts.

Any facts you can give me would be helpful.



The response appears below:

Milwaukee County is a “100% and 50%” zoo. Kansas City is a “50%” zoo. Therefore, you will get a 50% discount on our admission cost as that is what we offer. Any zoo in the area on the list that shows “100% and 50%” will offer free admission, as you are a member at a “100% and 50%” zoo. I hope this proves helpful. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you 
And after all this, I think I have it. My confusion came from trying to compare too many zoos and making assumptions. For example, I assumed that two similar zoos, like Milwaukee and Kansas City, would have reciprocity. Or that two zoos in the same area, like KC and Topeka, would be more likely to reciprocate than Topeka and Milwaukee. Plus, I found that the Topeka Zoo link was out to the AZA website memberships, which has nothing to do with family zoo passes, so that threw me off a bit, too.
In the end, the point is that I could get a Topeka Zoo membership for $50 for the family and get into KC for 1/2 price and MKE for free. Or a Salisbury family plan for $36 to get into Milwaukee and Topeka free, as well as about $25 off at KC each visit. But that one's still kind of hyopthetical in my mind, whereas I am confident in my math on the Topeka zoo. Also, any zoo like KC, that only offers 50%, is automatically NOT as good a deal if you plan to visit other zoos during the year, and since that has become our goal now (unlike when we lived so close to MCZ), the best deal in 100% reciprocity is going to win for us, even if we miss out on special events. If global use is what you want out of a zoo pass, then this article might have helped a little. Or it was confusing, but that is totally mostly not my fault.
OK, for those of you who like numbers, let's do the math on getting a Topeka pass versus a Kansas City pass for OUR family. Remember, we will miss out on KC special events, but it's an hour to Topeka and about a half-hour to KC, so it might make sense based on the numbers. We'll do this like a word problem. We will plan on at least four zoo visits in the next year. One to Topeka, one or two to KC, one to Milwaukee, and one to another on the list.
Topeka pass - $50 = Topeka free + Milwaukee free + KC $14.50 adults ages 12 and older and $11.50 children ages 3-11 (50% = $26) + another free zoo
So, if we go to KC once, we'd pay a total of $76. If we go twice, it's $102, or about a KC membership.
KC pass - $99 = Topeka  Adults:  $5.75 Children (ages 3 to 12):  $4.25 (50% = $10) + Milwaukee Adult: $14.25 Child (age 3 to 12): $11.25 (50% = $25.50) + KC 2+ times free + another zoo (50% = $20.00 ish).
In this scenario, we might get a couple more total visits, since we live nearer to KC, but the cost per year would be over $150 for what we'd like to do.
And to be honest, even when we lived a few blocks from the zoo, we only went maybe five times a year, so we can handle less zoo visits or more different zoos for the price.