Kansas City Zoo

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Kansas City Zoo
Kansas City Zoo logo.png
Kansas City Zoo logo
Date openedDecember 13, 1909; 110 years ago (1909-12-13)
LocationSwope Park
Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Coordinates39°0′25″N 94°31′45″W / 39.00694°N 94.52917°W / 39.00694; -94.52917Coordinates: 39°0′25″N 94°31′45″W / 39.00694°N 94.52917°W / 39.00694; -94.52917
Land area202 acres (82 ha)
No. of animals1,300+

Kansas City Zoo is a 202-acre (82 ha) zoo founded in 1909. It is located in Swope Park at 6800 Zoo Drive Kansas City, Missouri, in the United States. The zoo has a Friends of the Zoo program. It is home to more than 1,300 animals and is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

In 2008, the Kansas City Zoo was voted one of America's best zoos.[2] It was ranked number one in the nation for “African Animals and Exhibits,” with the authors, Allen W. Nyhuis and Jon Wassner, praising its 95-acre (38.4 ha) Africa exhibit as representing five nations with "one of the most extensive collections of African animals we’ve ever seen." The Zoo was also ranked among the top 10 in the nation for “Australian Animals and Exhibits” and for “Pachyderms: Elephants, Rhinos, Hippos”. In addition, the authors re-quoted famed ape expert Jane Goodall’s compliment that Kansas City has “one of the finest chimpanzee exhibits in North America.” “America’s Best Zoos 2008” ranks the Kansas City Zoo as the number one zoo in the nation for viewing both chimpanzees and kangaroos.


Planning for the zoo started in 1907, and its gates opened on December 13, 1909. The zoo evolved slowly during its first 40 years, while it added exhibits such as the Bear Grotto in 1912. It gained more momentum when it added a monkey island and a children's zoo in the 1940s. In the 1950s, the sea lion pool, African Veldt, giraffe house and flamingoes were all added; and the zoo added an otter pool, elephant house, and the Great Ape House in the 1960s. The early 1970s brought a dairy barn, the Great Catwalk and gibbon islands. Approximately twenty years later (in 1991), after voting and financed from a grant, the zoo expanded to the current size of 202 acres (82 ha), adding Australia in 1993, International Festival in 1994, and Africa in 1995. The opening of the Africa section drew in approximately 40,000 visitors in first 2 days. A new building was added for the first IMAX in a zoo, the Sprint IMAX Theater. The improvements resulted in record attendance of 700,000 zoo guests and 400,000 IMAX visitors, in 1998. The zoo has grown from a small building and 60 acres (24 ha) to a large, 202-acre (82 ha) zoo with over 1,300 animals. The Orangutan Primadome opened in 2002 as a part of new management when the zoo changed from a city-operated organization to a public-private partnership with Friends of the Zoo (FOTZ for short).

A 20-year plan plots the zoo's future, including new improvements. The Discovery Barn opened in 2006 along with a short-cut path to Africa. In 2007, an endangered species carousel was added to KidZone. The Zoo closed the Sprint IMAX Theater on September 4, 2007.[3] New admission gates to the zoo were opened in May 2008 featuring new parking and animals.

In 2006, the Kansas City Zoo was selected to become a breeding facility for African elephants and baboons.

Extensive renovations of the zoo began in late 2005.[4] The Discovery Barn opened in 2006, formerly the Red Barn. It contains many exhibits and slides for children. Outside, there is a Peek-a-Boo Tree, that is fun for children to play in and get a sky-high view at the top of the tree, and like the Discovery Barn, it also contains a slide. The Promenade was also added in 2006, which is a wide path straight to the African elephants exhibit, which allows guests to reach Africa much faster. The new entrance admission gates opened in May 2008, with an educational center and a North American river otter and trumpeter swan exhibits. In early 2009, the Tropics House opened behind the Sea Lion pavilion in the 1909 Building and the polar bear exhibit opened in August 2010, located near the entrance, in the location formerly occupied by stroller rental.[5] In October 2013, the Helzberg Penguin Plaza opened, funded by an ongoing series of fundraising events as well as a 1/8th cent sales tax collected from the 2 county Zoological District.[6]


The zoo, which was founded in 1909, is 202 acres (82 ha) and is home to more than 1,300 animals. It is located in Swope Park, the 29th largest municipal park in the United States. The zoo is divided into five areas of the following themes: Africa, Australia, Tiger Trail, KidZone and The Valley.

Front entry plaza[edit]

The admission gates and facilities (such as restrooms, gift shop, and food) are located in the entrance to the Kansas City Zoo. In 2010, polar bears were re-introduced to the zoo near the existing North American river otter and trumpeter swan pool just inside the World Gate. The entry plaza also features an educational center and stops for both the zebra tram and train.

Polar Bear Passage[edit]


This exhibit opened on August 8, 2010, with the introduction of a polar bear named Nikita,[7] who was given to the Kansas City Zoo by the Toledo Zoo. The $10 million exhibit features a 140,000 US gallons (530,000 l) pool serviced by a massive waterfall, multiple indoor and outdoor viewing angles with 2.25-inch-thick (57 mm) glass windows, and space for up to two additional polar bears.[8] In early 2013, a second polar bear was added to the exhibit, a female named Berlin, who was loaned to the zoo from Duluth, Minnesota's Lake Superior Zoo in hopes that the two bears would breed.[9] At the end of 2015, Nikita was transferred from the zoo to the North Carolina Zoo for breeding purposes.[10]


The Africa section is broken up into Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, the Congolese Rainforest and Uganda. Several snack bars are located throughout Africa, as well as the Rafiki Restaurant and Equator gift shop in the Nanyuki Market (Kenya). Nanyuki Market also has a small aviary for masked lovebirds and a white-cheeked turaco. A zebra tram station and boat house are located in the Nanyuki Market. Tanzania features a pier for the boat ride on the other side of Africa.


Botswana contains seven savanna elephants (six female, one male) in an exhibit of 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) stretching 0.25 miles (0.40 km) with a water pool at one end. The elephants do paintings and demos during weekends. The elephant walk features a flamingo pool, home to Chilean flamingos and black-necked swans. The Promenade leads guests into Botswana and a large bridge then connects Botswana to the rest of Africa.

A male African elephant, Tamani from Birmingham Zoo, joined the zoo's six female elephants in October 2015 for breeding purposes.[11]


Kenya has cheetahs (with an observation building), warthog, and a deck with a view of some springbok, lesser kudu, common eland, scimitar-horned oryx and gray crowned cranes that roam across an African plain. Saddle-billed storks and Southern ground hornbills make up the wetland-themed exhibits on the opposite side of the walkway. At the boma area, replica huts simulate a Kenyan village which has lappet-faced vultures housed with white-necked ravens, Aldabra tortoises, bateleur eagles, red-flanked duikers and blue duikers are worked into small exhibits. The walk-through Scrubland Aviary is home to several species of birds, including a white-cheeked turaco, white-faced whistling ducks, cattle egrets, a bare-faced go-away-bird, marbled ducks, lilac-breasted roller, taveta weavers, superb starlings, and a white-headed buffalo weaver, as well as side exhibits for red ruffed lemurs and silvery-cheeked hornbills.


Tanzania features an African lion exhibit with 9 lions visible from a climate controlled observation building as well as a covered deck. Small exhibits that appear carved or surrounded by rock simulate a natural kopje; these include serval, bushbaby, caracal, black-footed cat, rock hyrax, masked and Fischer's lovebird, bat-eared fox, and black-throated monitor. A log-themed bridge crosses to the black rhinoceros exhibit and a top-notch 3 acres (1.2 ha) enclosure housing chimpanzees.[12][page needed] The chimpanzee observation building allows guests to view a very large area for a troop of 12 chimps to play and explore, and allows visitors to become educated on chimpanzees with a connected classroom. This side of the African plains features Masai giraffes, Grant's zebras, gray crowned cranes and ostriches. Nearby are some ground birds, kori bustard and secretary bird, leopard tortoises, a small house with slender-snouted crocodiles, and a hippo pool.


Uganda section has a small outdoor theater stage (Ruwenzori Theatre), and is home to spacious enclosures with African wild dogs and a troop of Guinea baboons, which sit adjacent to one another. A reservation-only campsite is located off into the woods from Uganda.

The Congolese Rainforest[edit]

The Congolese Rainforest is located across a historic swinging bridge from Kenya. Animals on exhibit include red-capped mangabey, black mangabey exhibits. A female Amur leopard is featured in an exhibit with an overhead area that visitors walk under. A raised pathway crosses through exhibits containing bongo, gray crowned crane, red river hog and yellow-backed duiker exhibits nestled in the dense forest. A single bachelor western lowland gorilla and a separate breeding group of one male and three female western lowland gorillas [12][page needed] can be viewed from a lookout building and from a renovated shelter with opportunities for up-close through-glass viewing.


Umbrella cockatoo in the Woodland Aviary.

Australia lies in the northernmost part of the zoo; there you can find a large field that is home to free-roaming red kangaroos. It features a walk-through Woodland Aviary, which includes black swans, tawny frogmouth, straw-necked ibis, pied imperial pigeon, silver gull, smew, magpie goose, cockatiel, eclectus parrot, plumed whistling duck, long-billed corella, chestnut teal, wompoo fruit dove, Australian shelduck, white cockatoo and sulphur-crested cockatoo. Beside the exit to the aviary is an emu exhibit. Also featured are parma wallaby, Bennett's wallaby, dingo and Matschie's tree kangaroo. A replica of an Australian sheep farm features a farmer's home, a building with various animal hides and preserves, spotted python, green tree python, a pair of laughing kookaburras and a hands-on sheep pen. An exhibit with dromedary camels is just past the sheep farm. Overlooking the kangaroo field is a train station and snack bar, and the final exhibit on the loop is an indoor exhibit for snakes of Australia.

It was announced in 2015 that the zoo would welcome a pair of koalas as a featured attraction in the summer of 2016.[10]

Tiger Trail[edit]

The Tiger Trail has been home to many types of animals over the years; and recently, the area was renovated to center around the return of tigers to the Kansas City Zoo and its native Asia. The entire trek is filled with oriental plants, lanterns, statues and various pictures of Asian animals. The Francois langur is featured in the first enclosure. The path leads to a tunnel with Bali mynah and red panda. The langurs and the pandas swap exhibits according to outdoor conditions (pandas are outside in fall and winter, while in tunnel during spring and summer). The focal point of the Tiger Trail is the critically endangered Sumatran tiger exhibit, which is home to two male tigers. Other animals on exhibit are the, wreathed hornbill and the lion-tailed macaque. Near the former ape house, Asian waterfowl, such as red-crowned crane, Mandarin duck and common shelduck can be viewed in a wetlands exhibit.

Orangutan Canopy[edit]

After moving from the outdated Great Ape House in 2002, the Bornean orangutan were relocated to a new exhibit in Tiger Trail that featured a large outdoor "primadome." Originally intended only as a temporary home, work eventually began on August 17, 2014, on a $6 million new orangutan exhibit called Orangutan Canopy.[13] The Zoological District along with many donors helped make Orangutan Canopy possible. The 3,400 square foot exhibit, which houses six Bornean orangutans in a more naturalistic outdoor environment than their previous two enclosures offered, opened to the public in May 2015.[14]


Blue monkey with newborn child in the Tropics House.

The KidZone area features a large cage for rainbow lorikeets, with three daily feedings that guests may participate in. There is a large sea lion pool, which has several shows daily. The original 1909 building is located behind the sea lions, which has seen many renovations over the years and was most recently reopened in early 2009 as the Tropics House.

Discovery Barn[edit]

In the Discovery Barn, scarlet macaw, green-winged macaw, White's tree frog, hourglass tree frog, squirrel monkey, marine toad, American toad, radiated tortoise, Prevost's squirrel, meerkat, ring-tailed lemur, and poison dart frog are housed alongside educational and fun features for children (including slides).


Tropics is housed in the zoo's original building. The structure opened in summer 1909 and it was built at a cost of $32,000. It housed the zoo's entire collection. Originally known as the "Bird and Carnivora House", it featured a gabled roof heavily ornamented with architectural terra cotta and a large arching window. The gabled ends and eaves featured decorative carved stone bird heads – kingfishers, owls, and parrots. The original roof was removed in 1969, because the wood framing was deteriorating badly. The building was closed in the 1990s, before reopening after a minor renovation in 2002. The building, used at that time for a traveling reptile exhibit, closed again in 2004 before undergoing much more extensive renovations. Following extensive renovation, the building reopened as Tropics in May 2009.[15]

In the Tropics House, saki monkeys, golden lion tamarin, white-cheeked gibbon, blue monkey, small-clawed otter, capybara, prehensile-tailed porcupine, mona monkey, crested screamer, green aracari and freshwater stingray are housed in a 13,000 square feet (1,200 m2) building. Exotic plants species and a vaulted glass roof for natural light are also included.[16] The enclosure's first birth came when Abby and Indigo, the zoo's blue monkey couple, welcomed their newborn baby on November 4, 2009.

Helzberg Penguin Plaza[edit]

The Helzberg Penguin Plaza opened on October 25, 2013. The 19,000 square feet (1,800 m2) facility features a 100,000 US gallons (379,000 l) cold water tank built for cold water penguins and a 25,000 US gallons (95,000 l) pool for warm weather penguins. Four species of penguins — king, gentoo, rockhopper and Humboldt — are housed in the building alongside smaller aquarium exhibits featuring fish, jelly fish, and a coral reef display.

The Valley[edit]

The Valley area of the zoo opened in 1912, and it served as a primary portion of the zoo for many years. The first exhibits were a bear pit and a duck pond on the east side of the Valley. In 1914, a grizzly bear named Nemo was brought to the zoo from Yellowstone National Park. Nemo escaped from his enclosure in the Valley after bending the bars around his exhibit and scaling the rock bluff. The bear was eventually found 18 days later in a pool at a local cemetery.[17]

In 1932, the Works Progress Administration funded a major expansion project in the Valley. The project was never fully completed, but it was used as a small grotto for smaller mammal exhibits. Through the years, the small grotto was home to various animals including Arctic foxes, hyenas, colobus monkeys, binturong, coatimundi, river otters, aardwolf, red pandas, maned wolves, white-tailed sea eagles and king vultures. Most of the structural work completed by the WPA remains intact, and the zoo planned to preserve the historical elements of the original 1912 bear pit, the 1932 WPA small grotto and Monkey Island by incorporating them into the construction of a new polar bear exhibit. Other issues with the location forced the new polar bear exhibit to be relocated to the Front Entry Plaza. The old structures in the Valley remain unused until a new development plan is announced that will incorporate their historically significant features.[17]

Monkey Island was the centerpiece of the Valley. The island was surrounded by a moat 20 feet (6.1 m) wide and 6 feet (1.8 m) deep. The Monkey Island exhibit opened in June 1946 with rhesus monkeys. Fifteen years after the exhibit opened, 30 mangabeys escaped. Many of the mangabeys were lured back to the exhibit with food; however, eleven remained loose for the entire summer until they were eventually captured as the weather began to turn cooler. Monkey Island was demolished in 1992 and replaced by a new exhibit for red pandas, musk deer, and maned wolf.[17]

Most of the Valley was closed in 2002 and it was entirely closed by 2005. A flamingo pond borders the outside edge of the valley and it remains in use. The old aviary row is now Beaks and Feet Boulevard, with exhibits for Indian peafowl, green iguana, military and green-winged macaws, spectacled owl, Swainson's toucan, black-billed magpie, golden lion tamarin, red-handed tamarin, and bobcat.

Great Ape House[edit]

The former Great Ape House at the Kansas City Zoo as it appeared in August 2012

The zoo's Great Ape House was a distinctive architectural landmark in Kansas City since it was completed in 1966. At the time of its construction, it was heralded as a modern marvel. At the time it was opened, the 55 feet (17 m) tall circular building was home to seven gibbons, five chimpanzees, two orangutans and two gorillas. Eventually the apes were all relocated to different areas of the zoo with only orangutans remaining in the exhibit by the time it was closed in 2003, with the opening of their new enclosure in Tiger Trail. Following its closure, supporters have pushed for its redevelopment for other uses due to its iconic architectural significance as a recognizable landmark. Discussion of the ape house's demolition began as early as 2001; however, the possibility of redevelopment has emerged as support for the zoo has increased dramatically since then. While it was still in operation, former zoo director Ernest Hagler suggested moving out the animals and turning the building into a gift shop or restaurant. It was never re-purposed and after sitting empty for over a decade, the building was ultimately demolished in September 2015, to make room for a new addition to the zoo, tentatively titled Predator Canyon.[18]

The Great Ape house's distinctive mid-century design had been compared to structures in Disney's Tomorrowland, as well as the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. In its earlier years, the ape house served as a central identity for the zoo, appearing on postcards and numerous zoo souvenirs.[19][20][21][22]


African Sky Safari, a modified ski lift
Zebra Trams

A zebra-themed tram takes zoo guests along the African elephants and flamingos, from the World Gate to the African section of the zoo known as "Nanyuki Market" (in Kenya).

Zoo Train Ride

A mini train takes visitors around the main area of the zoo with stops at World Gate and Australia. Dromedary camels and kangaroos can be seen from the ride.

Lake Nakuru Boat Ride

A boat takes visitors (Memorial Day through Labor Day) for an up-close view of the African savannah animals, such as the Masai giraffe, lesser kudu and scimitar-horned oryx.

African Sky Safari

A modified ski lift that goes over the middle of the Africa section from the marketplace to the chimpanzees. Riders may choose to ride a round-trip or get off on the other side. The Sky Safari opened to the public in the summer of 2011.[23]


On February 19, 2012, two adult gorillas escaped from their enclosure when their door was accidentally left open. The gorillas were quickly captured after they wandered around the building they were housed in for a few minutes and no one was injured or threatened.[24]

On April 10, 2014, seven chimpanzees escaped from their enclosure when one of the animals used a log to scale the wall. The zoo was put on lockdown and visitors were kept safe inside designated buildings throughout the zoo until all seven chimpanzees had been returned to their exhibit.[25]

On May 29, 2019, an elephant escaped its enclosure after scaling a wall. It was returned to its enclosure safely within an hour.[26]


  1. ^ "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". aza.org. AZA. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  2. ^ Kansas City Zoo Press Release, "The Kansas City Zoo Voted One of America's Best Zoos in 2008: Ranked Number One in the Nation for African Animals" 2008 May 28 Archived July 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Kansas City Zoo Press Release, "Kansas City Zoo Sprint IMAX© Theatre Closes September 4," August 28, 2007
  4. ^ Kansas City Zoo Press Release, "Zoo Launches Most Aggressive Renovation in 10 Years," August 10, 2007
  5. ^ Kansas City Star, June 10, 2008[dead link][dead link]
  6. ^ Kansas City Zoo Marketing Department[when?]
  7. ^ Kansas City Zoo Press Release, "A Big Celebrity Is Coming to Town," March 9, 2010
  8. ^ Kansas City Zoo Press Release, "Polar Bear from Toledo Will Make Kansas City Home," October 28, 2009
  9. ^ nncnow, "Berlin the Polar Bear on Exhibit in Kansas City Zoo" Archived 2013-04-10 at the Wayback Machine, 2013 January 17
  10. ^ a b Matt Campbell (June 24, 2015). "Kansas City Zoo is losing its male polar bear, Nikita". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 2016-04-04. Retrieved March 27, 2016.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-10-07. Retrieved 2015-10-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ a b Kansas City Zoo[when?]
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-28. Retrieved 2015-09-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-30. Retrieved 2015-09-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "Taylor Kelly Renovates Kansas City Zoo's Original Main Building". Modern Builder. May–June 2009. pp1-2.
  16. ^ KCTV5 News, July 2, 2008 Archived May 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ a b c "Down in the Valley". Kansas City Zoo Expeditions. Winter 2013. pp14-16
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-26. Retrieved 2015-09-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ kawsmouth.com, "Palace of the Apes" Archived 2014-09-03 at the Wayback Machine, Lucas Wetzel, 2012 June 30
  20. ^ Ljungblad, Tammy. "With KC Zoo's famed Great Ape House doomed, its remaining residents will soon leave view too." Kansas City Star. March 7, 2001. A1
  21. ^ Hancocks, David. Animals and architecture. 1971. p 144.
  22. ^ Seeliger, Ruth. Kansas City Zoo Tales: A Wild 100-Year History. 1999
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-04-09. Retrieved 2017-04-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ Campbell, Matt (February 20, 2012). "Keepers left doors unlocked before gorillas escaped at zoo". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 2012-02-23. Retrieved 2012-03-06.
  25. ^ Burnes, Brian (April 10, 2014). "Seven chimpanzees use ingenuity to escape their enclosure at the Kansas City Zoo". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 2015-01-09. Retrieved 2014-08-31.
  26. ^ Bill Smith (May 29, 2019). "'All clear' at the Kansas City Zoo after 'active code red' situation with elephant". KCTV5 News. Retrieved May 31, 2019.

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