1. The Kansas City Zoo’s penguins go on display Friday. When voters in Jackson and Clay counties were asked in 2011 to approve a one-eighth-cent sales tax to upgrade the zoo, bringing in penguins was the first and most prominent of the new major attractions that the zoo promised. The 19,060-square-foot Helzberg Penguin Plaza, under construction for a little more than a year, opens at 9:30 a.m. Friday. It cost $15 million, with the money coming from the sales tax, the Helzberg family, the Junior League of Greater Kansas City and other donors. Penguins can be seen from indoors and outdoors, and there’s a classroom/meeting room.
2. The exhibit has about a dozen Humboldt penguins and close to 40 cold-water penguins. King penguins, with orange patches on each side of the head, might be the most distinctive species on display. They’re from Antarctica, and the International Penguin Conservation Work Group says there are about 2 million breeding pairs in the world.
3. The Penguin Coast creates a temperate environment – 50 to 80 degrees – much like the habitat of the Humboldt penguin in Peru and Chile. The birds have 25,000 gallons of water as well as nesting boxes in the rockwork. Two underwater doors allow the birds to swim from the indoors to the outdoors, and in the wamer parts of the year, the temperate exhibit will be open to the outdoors. Humboldt penguins are endangered.
4. The zoo is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. For residents of Jackson and Cass counties, admission is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and $4 for children ages 3 to 11. Children 2 and younger get in free. For 2013, the last remaining free-admission day for Jackson County residents is Dec. 30. The zoo is in Swope Park off 63rd Street in Kansas City. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m weekdays and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Parking is free. Added attractions in the years ahead include a new restraurant near the penguins in 2014, an orangutan canopy in 2015, a rebuilt elephant watering hole in 2016 and a “predator canyon” in 2017.
– Jeff Fox