As the Tanganyika Wildlife Park near Goddard begins its second season, it hopes to draw visitors with new exhibits — and baby penguins.
"We have a lot of the same animals we did last year — a lot of interactive exhibits," said Matt Fouts, assistant director of Tanganyika.
One of the new exhibits this year will allow visitors to feed Indian rhinos. For now, Fouts said, the exhibit is under construction.
Visitors will also get to see the park's new snow leopard exhibit. Last year, the leopards were on limited display.
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Fouts said other exhibits that will open this year include the Malayan tapir and warthog.
But perhaps the biggest draw will be the two African penguins that hatched earlier this year.
The chicks, now weighing nearly 4 pounds each, are the first hatched in Kansas, according to Fouts. The penguins, also known as black-footed or jackass penguins, are warm-weather penguins found off the coast of South Africa.
One other baby that may capture people's attention is a 3-month-old right-handed gibbon, a primate that is native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia. The baby's parents, Gilligan and Mary Ann, live on an island at the park.
The park has been operating since 1986 but first opened to the public in August 2008. Last year marked its first full season, and more than 80,000 people visited, Fouts said. It is privately owned and, unlike the Sedgwick County Zoo 13 miles to the northeast, does not receive taxpayer support.
"Our attendance was what we hoped for and expected," Fouts said. "Zoos nationwide saw that people are looking for an economical way to entertain kids or do stuff and they are not taking as many family vacations long distance. They are staying close to home.... We did all right."
One-quarter of the park's exhibits allow visitors to interact with animals.
"The number of interactive exhibits are unprecedented for zoos," Fouts said. "We really try to get people as close as safely possible to the animals so they can experience them — not just see them."
Why allow people that close?
"It's like watching animals on TV — you can see them and that's great, but when you can get a foot from it or come in actual contact, it becomes more personal," Fouts said. "People feel that bond. We strive for people feeling more connected and hope they take up the cross and become more conservation minded, either by wanting to give to our organization to help species or another."