October 22, 2021

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Here’s what’s new at zoos within driving distance of Wichita

7 min read

If you’ve visited the Sedgwick County Zoo recently to see KJ the baby black rhino and his mom Bibi, you might be in the mood to see more newborn animals. Did you know there are seven AZA-accredited zoos in Kansas and 20 if you expand your search to within 400 miles of Wichita?

AZA, or the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, is a nonprofit group that represents more than 240 facilities around the world that the accreditation organization says have met its high standards for animal care and welfare, as well as dedication to conservation.

Visiting an AZA attraction, the group says, “assures you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things.”

We’ve pulled together a look at what’s new at these regional, AZA-accredited zoos. In addition to babies, you’ll find new species on display, upgraded exhibits for existing residents and new events and attractions at these regional zoos.

You can see the complete list of AZA-accredited facilities at aza.org. Consider planning an August road trip, or visit in the fall when cooler temperatures might mean more animal activity.

Hutchinson Zoo, Hutchinson

On 10 acres within Carey Park, the Hutchinson Zoo opened its North American River Otter Exhibit last summer. They have a young pair, Theo and Whimsy, who they hope to eventually be able to display at the same time as Jilly, an older female.

They also have two baby beavers and have added two ringtail cats, which look like a cross between a housecat and a racoon. Other popular areas are the Mini-Farm, the World Biomes Building highlighting different habitats around the world and the Prairie Thunder train ride through the zoo.

The zoo is open 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily. Admission is a suggested donation of $2 per person or $5 per family; the train requires a ticket to ride.

David Traylor Zoo, Emporia

The city-operated David Traylor Zoo debuted a new entrance earlier this month as well as a North American Flyway that features a pond, fountain and waterfalls for waterfowl and migrating birds. At the same time, the zoo dedicated its new Laughing Kookaburra Exhibit, finally giving dedicated space to its collection of Australia native birds known for their territorial call.

Emporia’s zoo is free and is as popular for its botanical displays over 8 acres as the 300-plus animals on exhibit, said director Lisa Keith. She said visitors also will see baby prairie dogs, a new female bison and crowned lemurs added to the Mission Madagascar naturalistic enclosure.

David Traylor Zoo is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, with extended hours to 8 p.m. on Sunday and Wednesday through Labor Day.

Rolling Hills Zoo, Salina

Rolling Hills Zoo, 6 miles west of Salina, last week announced a major expansion to its lion exhibit that is scheduled to open next spring. Visitors this year, though, can enjoy a new playground structure at the Nature Playground and plenty of newbies including a wallaby joey, giraffe calf, scimitar-horned oryx calf and five Chilean flamingos.

Rolling Hills has 65 acres with more than 100 species and a 64,000-square-foot museum featuring taxidermy displays. The zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until it changes to off-peak hours with the daylight saving time change.

Sunset Zoo, Manhattan

The Sunset Zoo, open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, has more than 200 animals on 26 acres. Its new Wild Wonders Room lets visitors get up-close views with animal ambassadors including a screech owl, ferrets and fish. The nature play area also offers feedings with Herald and Tortuga, Sulcata tortoises, for $1 per feeding on the weekends.

The zoo expects to open its $4.3 million Expedition Asia next spring. It will be the new home to Malayan tigers, sloth bears and Amur leopards and will feature training wall experiences and an overlook pavilion for visitors to see the species better.

Topeka Zoo & Conservation Center, Topeka

The Topeka Zoo & Conservation Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The 80-plus acre zoo is within the city’s Gage Park and has more than 300 animals. Newer exhibits include the Kay McFarland Japanese Garden finished in 2020 and Camp Cowabunga, opened in 2018 and featuring African lions, African painted dogs, Red Patas monkey and more.

At the time, Camp Cowabunga was the biggest exhibit in the zoo’s history but a new project will surpass that. The first giraffe born in Kansas was born at the Topeka Zoo in 1970 and the species has been a favorite of Topeka Zoo visitors since then. The zoo broke ground in June 2021 on its new Giraffe and Friends habitat on 3 acres of previously undeveloped land. It’s expected to open in 2022.

The zoo has a baby Hoffmann’s sloth and a new fundraising event series. Each Steins and Vines event features live music or live comedy along with beer, wine and food trucks. Guests get a commemorative wildlife glass unique to that night; the three remaining Steins and Vines dates are July 31 (otter), Sept. 18 (giraffe) and Oct. 2 (tarantula).

Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, OKC

The Oklahoma City Zoo has a special exhibit through Oct. 31 featuring life-like animatronic dinosaurs created by Jurassic Park advisor “Dino Don” Lessem’s company. Dino Safari has 15 moving displays and eight skeleton replicas in the zoo’s 6-acre pollinator garden. This exhibit requires an extra ticket in addition to admission to the 119-acre zoo that is home to 1,900 animals.

The zoo, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, had a male giraffe calf born in June. Kioni can be seen daily at the giraffe habitat with his parents and herd mates, including one who is pregnant and expected to give birth soon. There also are alligator snapping turtles hatchlings in the Children’s Zoo area.

Bat-eared foxes, known for their enormous ears, are the newest members of the OKC Zoo animal family. The male and female pair from the African savanna species were brought in through animal rescue. They can be seen in a habitat next to the Lion Overlook.

Tulsa Zoo, Tulsa

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the Tulsa Zoo has a baby long-tailed Chinchilla and a baby Diana monkey, plus a new female alligator they call Nellie and an Arctic fox named Cotton.

The biggest news for the 85-acre zoo that is home to more than 1,500 animals is the opening of the $3 million “Helmerich Playground: Behaving Like Animals” space. There are spaces for all ages, providing education while playing and moving like their favorite animals.

Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City, Mo.

About every three or four years, the Kansas City Zoo brings in a pair of visiting koalas. The marsupials only stay a short time, as it’s expensive to feed them. Koalas’ strict diet of young eucalyptus leaves must be fresh, and since eucalyptus doesn’t grow in Kansas City, it must be flown in twice a week from Florida.

You have until November to see Thackory, 10 and Chuckels, 7, from the San Diego Koala Conservation and Education Program. While at the zoo, don’t miss Polar Bear Passage, which last winter welcomed Nuniq, a 4-year-old, 1,100 pound male polar bear. He joined 31-year-old female Berlin. Another recent update was a $10 million renovation to the elephant enclosures. Elephant Expedition opened in 2020 and is home to seven African elephants.

The KC Zoo, with 1,700 animals on 200 acres in Swope Park, requires non-members to make timed reservations to enter the zoo; you can purchase a ticket up to 14 days in advance at kansascityzoo.org.

Lee Richardson Zoo, Garden City

Garden City’s Lee Richardson Zoo welcomed its first baby eastern black rhino earlier this year, born to Jabari and Johari, a breeding pair the zoo brought together in 2016 to contribute to the population of the critically endangered species.

There’s also a newborn red ruffed lemur, and the zoo has added a critically endangered Amur leopard and a 4-year-old jaguar. The 50-acre zoo with 300 animals is within Garden City’s Finnup Park. It is free if you choose to walk through and $10 per vehicle for driving access that takes you close to exhibits. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, then it moves to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. after Labor Day, with vehicle traffic closing one hour earlier.

Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Omaha

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, has had a series of renovations and new developments in the past five years as the zoo redesigns its format by grouping species by their native regions. From the African Grasslands exhibit opened in 2016 to the Asian Highlands completed in 2019 and voted 2021’s Best Zoo Exhibit in North America by USA TODAY readers.

Bay Family Children’s Adventure Trails, a five-acre outdoor adventure area with hands-on learning experiences, opened in 2017 and in 2020, Owen Sea Lion Shores debuted its 40-foot-long underwater viewing window amid a realistic Pacific Ocean atmosphere with heated rocks, sandy beaches, underwater kelp forest and a 275,000-gallon saltwater pool.

Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth

Voted the second best zoo in the country in a 2021 poll of USA Today readers (behind the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden), the Fort Worth Zoo opened its newest habitat in April.

Elephant Springs gives 1 acre for the zoo’s Asian elephant herd — seven elephants, including a three-generation family — and a greater one-horned rhino to roam. There are multiple green spaces and watering holes for the elephants, and for humans there is a chance to spray streams of water into the habitat and a floating fishing village to explore.

The new habitat is phase two of a $100-million capital campaign that will next redesign the zoo’s space for lions, tigers, hyenas, African wild dogs, clouded leopards, cheetahs and several exotic bird species. Hunters of Africa & Asian Predators will open in 2023.

The Fort Worth Zoo has more than 7,000 animals on 64 acres; it’s open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Be sure to check the latest updates to hours and visiting guidelines before you go.

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