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Even the gators joined in for the Sedgwick County Zoo’s Cinco de Mayo festivities

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 6:19 p.m.

Carlos Norona took his 3-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, to the Sedgwick County Zoo on Sunday afternoon to see the animals.

But there was more he wanted her to see, as well.

At noon Sunday, Cinco de Mayo crowds began streaming through the gates at the zoo. An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people were expected to attend the events by day’s end. By midafternoon, more than 2,500 people were on the grounds that included a festival of Mexican food and live music

Among them were Carlos and Jocelyn.

He wanted her “to see the festival a bit,” he said. “This day is part of the Mexican heritage.”

Music from bands such as La Tropa Vallenata, Vizzio, Novillos Musical, Tornado Musical and D.J. Tino Morales could be heard almost into the bumper-to-bumper parking lot.

But people of all cultures were not the only ones celebrating Cinco de Mayo on Sunday.

The zoo animals also began to revel in the festivities.

Chinese alligators Lucky, Ned and Buttercup began roaring along with a band’s bass.

“The music stimulates the male to sound out his territory,” said John Rold, a senior keeper.

And then the female Chinese alligators began bellowing.

“When you are in the exhibit, you can see the body movement,” said Steph Kelley, the alligators’ keeper.

The alligator raises its body into a dragon shape, and a low, earthquakelike sound is produced.

“When they roar, you can feel the sound all through your chest,” Kelley said.

As chicken and other meats were grilled and smells wafted throughout the grounds, grizzly bears Mallory and Devon lifted their noses into the breeze and wandered as close to the food as their fences and boundaries permitted.

“It is a lot of enrichment for the animals,” said Bridget Landers, the zoo’s special events and volunteer manager.

This is the 10th year the Journal Broadcast Group has hosted the Cinco de Mayo celebration at the zoo, said Eric McCart, vice president and general manager of Journal Broadcast. One of the group’s six radio stations is Radio Lobo KYQQ, a station that airs in a Spanish format.

“This is a great opportunity for the Hispanic members of our community to celebrate,” McCart said. “It is also a great venue to have live music and authentic Mexican food.”

It is also a chance for people who might not ordinarily visit the zoo to see what it can offer, Landers said.

“Obviously, our gate attendance will be higher than on a normal day,” she said. “We get more exposure. We think it is a great opportunity for people to see if they want to become members.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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