The big news at Wichita’s Sedgwick County Zoo this summer was the addition of six African elephants and the opening of the third-largest elephant habitat in the country. Then, in August, a baby Western lowland gorilla was born. That made us wonder: What’s new at other zoos in the region? Quite a lot, it turns out: baby animals, updated exhibits for existing residents, additional species on display, new behind-the-scenes opportunities and temporary exhibits.
Fall’s cooler weather can mean more activity – for you and the animals – during your visit. Many zoos plan special events this time of year, especially around Halloween; check event calendars before you schedule a trip.
Here are highlights of what we found happening at the region’s Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoos:
David Traylor Zoo, Emporia
“Mission Madagascar” opened at the end of July at Emporia’s David Traylor Zoo. The zoo has housed lemurs since 1990, but they were on exhibit only during warm months. This new $400,000 naturalistic enclosure has two indoor and two outdoor areas and allows the lemurs to choose where they want to be. Large windows give the lemurs natural sunlight year-round and allow visitors close views. Inhabitants are a mix of three lemur species: ring-tailed, collared brown and black and white-ruffed. Ring-tailed lemur twins were born in April, the first birth of a lemur species at the zoo. Other natives of the island of Madagascar are part of the new exhibit, too, including spider tortoises, lesser hedgehog tenrecs and hissing cockroaches.
Rolling Hills Zoo, Salina
Rolling Hills Zoo, 6 miles west of Salina, is unveiling the “Art Gone Wild” gallery show in the Earl Bane Gallery on Oct. 1. The exhibit features more than 120 works of art in various mediums, including pieces created by regional artists, the zoo’s animals and participants at the Sept. 17 plein air event at the zoo. It will run through Jan. 8 and is included in the price of zoo admission ($12.50 for adults; $11.50 for ages 65 and older and $6 for ages 3-12).
Among Rolling Hills’ babies on exhibit are Stark, a wallaby that came out of the pouch in February, and Nneka, a female addax (antelope family) born in June.
Cora, a 58-year-old Asian elephant, and Shannon, a 34-year-old African elephant, retired to the Topeka Zoo on Aug. 24 after 33 years of traveling the eastern U.S. together in an educational program. The two females joined the zoo’s current elephants, Tembo, a 46-year-old African elephant, and Sunda, a 56-year-old Asian elephant, to form an all-female herd. The zoo said it is one of three in the nation that house both Asian and African elephants together. While the new and existing elephants acclimate to one another, the zoo might close the exhibit during parts of the day. Check the zoo’s website, topekazoo.org, and its Facebook page before planning a trip.
Oklahoma City Zoo, Botanical Garden
Phoenix, a female California sea lion pup, was born on June 25 inside the Oklahoma City Zoo’s Noble Aquatics Center. The zoo said she is the third offspring born to Pearl, 13, and Xander, 13, and her birth is significant for the California sea lion population in human care because her parents were rescues and are genetically unrepresented. She’s not yet on exhibit daily; however, visitors can watch the pup swim during a pool presentation from 3 to 3:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. The show is included in zoo admission ($8 for adults; $5 for ages 3-11 and 65 and older).
Another way to see Phoenix is through a Wild Encounter package. Tickets range from $35 to $50, and visitors can select behind-the-scenes experiences in one of several animal areas, including the home of the zoo’s seven sea lions and two harbor seals.
Another zoo baby in Oklahoma City is Wasabi, a female red panda born in July. The zoo said she is the 15th cub born there since 1988, when it began participating in the AZA’s species survival plan for red pandas, listed as an endangered species. She is expected to be on exhibit with her mom starting in October.
Kansas City Zoo
The Koala Flats exhibit has two indoor areas filled with trees and an Australian-themed backdrop. The 3-year-old males have free range of the space, but with their low energy, you’ll likely find them snuggled in a tree.
Catch one of two daily zookeeper chats and you’ll learn that while they are as cute as teddy bears, they are marsupials and that koalas are picky eaters that must have fresh eucalyptus leaves, which are flown in twice a week. Stop at their exhibit when the zoo opens at 9:30 a.m., and you might see them eating.
Last year, the Kansas City Zoo opened a $6 million Orangutan Canopy exhibit with an outdoor forest area and indoor space that serves as a gymnasium for the seven orange apes. The tiniest was born in May, and first-time mom Josie is on exhibit with her son, Dusty. The habitat has large viewing windows and multiple vantage points.
Lee Richardson Zoo, Garden City
In May, Garden City’s Lee Richardson Zoo received two eastern black rhinos with a breeding recommendation from the AZA. The zoo said it hopes Jabari, a 2-year-old male, and Johari, a 5-year-old female, will contribute to the population of this critically endangered species.
Among the zoo’s babies is a red panda born in late August. Keepers expect the cub to make its first outdoor appearance in late October or early November.
Pedestrian access to the zoo is free; visitors can pay $10 to drive a vehicle through and park close to exhibits.
Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha
The same May weekend that the Sedgwick County Zoo opened its $10.6 million elephant exhibit, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium debuted the $73 million African Grasslands exhibit. The 28-acre section is the first the zoo has completed in an effort to redesign its format by grouping species by their native regions. The African exhibit is home to more than 20 species, some new to the zoo and others re-introduced, such as the six African elephants that arrived during the same relocation mission that also brought elephants from Swaziland to zoos in Wichita and Dallas. The zoo said its indoor elephant space is the largest herd room in North America. The outdoor area mixes elephants, plains zebra and impala.
In June, the zoo opened a splash park called Alaskan Adventure. It has sprays and spouts arranged around 75 bronze sculptures of animals that could be found in Alaska. Eventually, the zoo plans to add a new sea lion pool and a home for polar bears to this section. The water features will close for the season on Oct. 3.
Ajabu was born at the Dallas Zoo on May 14 to Mlilo, one of the five African elephants rescued from Swaziland two months earlier. Zoo officials said it was the first birth of an African elephant calf in the U.S. in nearly two years. He isn’t yet on exhibit, remaining in a behind-the-scenes area of the Giants of the Savanna habitat with his mother and others in the zoo’s 10-elephant herd. No date has been set for his public debut.
In March, the Dallas Zoo re-opened its monorail. The 1-mile loop around the back side of the 106-acre zoo shows riders six habitats not accessible by foot and circles above several popular exhibits. It closed in 2014 after serving 4 million guests during 25 years to receive repairs and upgrades, including adding air conditioning in the passenger cars. Now called Wilds of Africa Adventure Safari, tickets are $5 each.