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Zoo professionals flock to KC for conference

Updated: 2013-09-09T05:21:18Z

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

About 2,000 zoo professionals from across North America and beyond will flock to Kansas City this week for the industry’s annual conference, giving local zoo officials a chance to strut a bit.

The convention of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums also will attract about 200 exhibitors and service providers that cater to zoos.

The Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association estimates the conference at Bartle Hall will inject about $3.3 million into the local economy.

Kevin Pistilli, whose Kansas City Marriott Downtown is the headquarters hotel for the convention, said nabbing the conference is a result of improvements to downtown in recent years and to improvements at the Kansas City Zoo.

“It all comes together,” said Pistilli, who is also a member of the Kansas City Zoo tax district commission. “It’s a big deal.”

The zoo made its successful pitch for the conference several years ago.

“This is a convention that is heavily sought in the industry,” said zoo director Randy Wisthoff, formerly of the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb. “We had this convention in Omaha 20 years ago, and it had an amazing impact on our reputation in the zoo world at that time.”

The Kansas City Zoo is hosting a “zoo day” at the animal park for conventioneers on Thursday. They will see the penguin exhibit being readied for a late October opening, the polar bear exhibit that opened in 2010 and other recent improvements.

Association president Jim Maddy said the zoo world is a close community.

“People know what’s going on in Kansas City,” he said. “They follow the developments. They know the improvements in the collections, in the exhibits and in visitor services.”

In his address to the convention this week, Maddy will reveal findings of a study commissioned by the association that shows the economic effect of accredited zoos.

The report by Stephen S. Fuller of George Mason University found that the nation’s zoos, through their spending, visitors’ spending and multiplier effects, contribute almost $21 billion to the economy and support almost 205,000 jobs.

The conference schedule includes sessions focusing on specific animals from sea turtles to tapirs. Other topics include saving tigers from extinction, elephant welfare in zoos, climate change and animal nutrition.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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