A giraffe’s heart weighs about 24 pounds and can beat up to 170 times a minute.
Those are among the facts in a “Meet the Giraffes” pamphlet, one of 25 developed by the Kansas City Zoo for teachers to use as part of the curriculum when students take field trips. The pamphlet also has lessons on geography, math, language skills and even the Latin names of some animals. (The giraffe is Giraffa camelopardalis.)
Randy Wisthoff, the zoo’s CEO and executive director, says the days of recreational field trips are largely over. Schools are pressed to use their time efficiently, so as the zoo has significantly expanded programming in recent years, it’s had to do so in a way that links clearly with classroom work.
“Blue Springs School District jumped in with both feet” in that collaboration, Wisthoff said Thursday at the monthly Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Wisthoff also mentioned a new exhibit in the works – a 20,000-gallon touch tank with rays and sharks. It should open in the spring and will be free with zoo admission.
“They’re very popular,” Wisthoff said. “A lot of zoos charge for them.”
A nature play area in the Africa section of the zoo also is coming. That and the touch tank would be the latest in a series of improvements, such as the penguin exhibit, that have come with voters’ approval several years ago of a one-eighth-cent sales tax in Jackson and Clay counties to support the zoo.
With that steady revenue stream and plans to expand programming and exhibits, more field trips – the zoo even pays for transportation – became possible. Zoo officials quickly realized that those had to fit into school curricula.
“Students come to the zoo on a field trip, and it’s an educational field trip,” Wisthoff said, adding that school districts have embraced the program.
It has specific programs for the second and fourth grades. The zoomobile also makes a lot of stops.
“Elementary is really our sweet spot at the zoo,” Wisthoff said.
Also, a two-week program for secondary students can lead to credits in zoology at the University of Central Missouri. The zoo’s summer camps, with more than 1,000 slots, are sold out this year.
Last year the zoo had 1 million visitors for the first time. Zoo attendance has more than tripled since Wisthoff came on board in 2003. Of the more than 200 zoos in North America, only about 25 attract 1 million or more visitors a year, he said.
“It’s a really monumental moment for the Kansas City Zoo,” he said.