If you know anything about zoos in the Midwest, you probably know that the Omaha Zoo is the bee’s knees, but the Kansas City Zoo is nearly as impressive, and the improvements are just beginning.
Thanks to a voter-approved tax, the zoo has been updating like crazy – most notably the Polar Bear Exhibit and the Helzberg Penguin Plaza. Up next is a new Orangutan Canopy, which is under construction as of this writing.
The zoo has made a great effort to give animals plenty of room to live, and the zoo’s reputation has suffered a bit because of it. The more land, the longer the walk and the fewer the animals. It’s not like they are packed into one cage after another like the old days. (That style of exhibit can still be seen, though, in the cage ruins between the main entrance and Africa, off in the woods to the south, past the railroad track.)
The zoo is divided into Africa (it’s largest exhibit area), Australia/Asia, the Kid Zone and the main entrance area which could easily be called, because it features the Polar Bears Nikita and Berlin and the Penguin Plaza. These newest attractions are definitely worthy of their front-and-center placement, as these cold-weather animals are tons of fun to watch, and their habitats are built for maximum human viewing pleasure.
The Australia/Asia section is definitely dated, but that’s where you’ll find most of the primates and big cats. One oddity is the free-range kangaroos. You actually walk into a large enclosed area, but they are free to run over the paths zoo visitors walk. I had always heard kangaroos could be dangerous to encounter, but these animals clearly don’t want much to do with the people passing by. They’re usually just asleep.
The Africa section is a huge sidewalk loop that features everything from chimpanzees to lions and meerkats to warthogs. Fortunately, meerkats and warthogs are placed far enough away from one another to discourage any spontaneous musical numbers.
KC Zoo Africa Section Pro Tip: Take the Sky Safari Ride near the Africa entrance to the back of that section. Head left when you exit the ride to catch the hippos, painted dogs and babboons, and then walk back past the ride station you just exited and keep walking the rest of the loop. There’s no sense in taking the two bridges and island walk that are completely devoid of animal exhibits.
The best part about the zoo isn’t the animals, though: it’s the people. I mean this not in a sappy way, but in a “Hey look at all the stupid people” way.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard parents explaining something incorrect about an animal to their children, including the animal names! Even better is when families catch animals in the act of procreating.
My favorite exchange involved a pair of mating tortoises.
Child: “Look Daddy. That turtle’s so lazy, he’s trying to get a ride on that other turtle.”
Father: “Oh he’s takin’ a ride, alright!”
This was followed by some mild spousal abuse as the wife smacked the father for being inappropriate and causing some strange guy to almost wet his pants laughing at them.
On occasion, though, you’ll find parents taking the opportunity to thoroughly educate their children about the animals. On one comfy fall day, I heard a woman in a patient, singsong voice quizzing her daughter about the hippos.
Mom: “Where do hippos live?”
Kid: “In the water.”
Mom: “They like the water, but they can go on land, too. What do you think hippos eat?”
I quietly replied in a sing-song whisper: “Peo-ple!”
Kid, startled: “Mommy?”
Mom, slightly louder, but still patient and singsongy: “Oh that’s just silly. Hippos don’t eat people.”
Me: “Oops. I didn’t think I was that loud.”
Mom: “But you were.”
So I felt kind of bad about that. However, in the interest of using the zoo for a more thorough education, I leave you with this link: Man swallowed by hippo lives to write about it.
Sleep tight, kiddos. Sleep tight.