Vision: The Kansas City Zoo, with its world-class exhibits and exceptional programs, attracts visitors from around the world and families from close to home.
Mission: The Kansas City Zoo connects people to each other and the natural world to promote understanding, appreciation, and conservation.
Why Zoos Matter
Zoological parks, together with museums and libraries, advance culture and knowledge, providing the opportunity for visitors to step back and look in awe at the wonders of our natural world.
Zoos are uniquely capable of bringing families together and transmitting educational information between generations. Visitors become part of a conservation discussion that identifies environmental challenges while brainstorming potential solutions.
The world around us is changing fast. Species of wildlife are facing global extinction on a massive scale. About 21% of the world’s mammal species, about 12% of the bird species and about 33% of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction. Cranes and cheetahs, great apes and rhinos and so many more are in trouble. Zoos are in a unique position to make a difference.
How is the Zoo governed?
The Kansas City Zoo, a private non-profit organization, is operated in agreement with the Kansas City, MO, Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners, is partially funded by the Zoological District, and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Friends of the Zoo, a volunteer Board of Directors, oversee operations of the Zoo. The Zoological District Commissioners administer and manage the funds collected through the district that support the Zoo.
In 1907, a dream began. City activists declared “An idea to create the largest zoological garden in the United States. There will be nothing better in the world. Swope Park is an admirable site for this purpose…” An affluent real estate speculator, Thomas Swope, donated land to Kansas City in 1896 for the park. Barron Fradenburg, a wealthy businessman and leading member of the Chamber of Commerce, made a plea that “Kansas City cannot be a metropolitan without a zoological garden.” Thus, a Zoological Society was formed.
In December 1909, the Kansas City Zoological Gardens officially opened with four lions, three monkeys, a wolf, a fox, a coyote, a badger, a lynx, an eagle and other birds.
The first expansion took place in 1912. During that same year, the Zoo became primarily self-sufficient, producing most of the animal’s food from gardens within the park itself.
In 1948, almost 40 years after the opening of the Kansas City Zoo, a children’s zoo, named Touchtown, was launched featuring a petting zoo with domestic animals, including goats, sheep, rabbits and tortoises, free-standing structures such as Noah’s Ark, the Old Woman’s Shoe, the Great Blue Whale and a hollow fabricated lion that kids could enter from the bottom and stick their heads out the open mouth. In 1961, the Hallmark Company donated the “Birthday Pavilion.” A puppet theater opened in Touchtown in 1964; it was remodeled in 1970 and became the Education building.
In 2002, Friends of the Zoo, Inc., (FOTZ) a private non-profit, took the reins of the Zoo with a focused commitment to improving and supporting Zoo facilities, animals and education programs. In 2003, Randy Wisthoff became the Zoo’s Executive Directors/CEO. He previously worked at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE. Wisthoff wasted no time as he immediately collaborated with Zoo Board Members, the Mayor and community leaders to spearhead a $30 million bond package that began to set the stage for the future.
Since 2007, the Zoo has invested over $85 million in capital projects including the Discovery Barn, the Zoo Learning Center, river otters, trumpeter swans, an Endangered Species Carousel, Polar Bear Passage, the African Sky Safari, Tiger Terrace, Orangutan Canopy, Tuxedo Grill and Helzberg Penguin Plaza. The original Zoo building was also transformed into what is now called Tropics, providing up-close views of primates, otters, birds and lush tropical plants.
The Kansas City Zoo was honored in “America’s Best Zoos 2008” as one of the top 60 zoos in the United States and was ranked No. 1 in the nation for “African Animals and Exhibits.” It ranked in the top 10 in the nation for “Australian Animals and Exhibits” and for “Pachyderms: Elephants, Rhinos, Hippos.” In addition, famed ape expert Jane Goodall complimented that Kansas City has “one of the finest chimpanzee exhibits in North America.” In fact, “America’s Best Zoos 2008” ranked the Kansas City Zoo as the No. 1 zoo in the nation to see both chimpanzees and kangaroos.
The Zoo also features a Sea Lion Show, Keeper Chats, elephant painting demonstrations and many other opportunities for animal encounters. The education department offers campouts, on-site and off-site classes and guided tours. Visitors can take a safari boat ride across the lake in the Zoo’s African Plains area where they’ll see hoofstock, including zebra, giraffe and more.
Now a 202-acre nature sanctuary, it is the most useful and accessible resource in the region for bringing urban and suburban families in touch with the diverse habitats, cultures and animals of the natural world. A visit to the Kansas City Zoo is a journey around the world -- an interactive experience that uses all the senses to entertain, educate and engage visitors of all ages. For many in our community, the Zoo serves as the only link to animals and habitats that remain wild on our planet and opens hearts and minds to the importance of preserving the natural world for generations to come.