The Kansas City Zoo will get touchy-feely with a planned exhibit that will allow visitors to pet stingrays and sharks.
Even feed them.
Todd LaSala, chairman of the Friends of the Zoo building committee, said the planned exhibit will have the necessary “wow factor” to keep up the zoo’s momentum after scoring a record-breaking 1 million visitors last year.
The $1.5 million permanent exhibit is being designed now. Construction is to begin in October near the penguin exhibit and the attraction is expected to open by May 1, 2018.
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The “touch tank” will hold 20,000-30,000 gallons of salt water. By comparison, the polar bear exhibit pool holds 140,000 gallons.
The tank will be populated with docile cownose rays and small bamboo sharks, also known as cat sharks because sensory organs near their mouths resemble cat whiskers.
The zoo hopes to cover some of the cost of the new exhibit with private donations.
The zoo last had petting rays as a special summer exhibit in 2002. But more than half of them were killed by a water quality problem.
The current senior director of zoological operations said he is aware of the earlier problem but things will be different this time.
“With all the time and effort and the systems we’ll be putting in here, we’ll be light years ahead of where (they) were in 2002,” said Sean Putney. “They just didn’t have enough filtration.”
For the new exhibit, the zoo is working with the same life-support engineers that worked on the penguin and other exhibits.
“We will have everything that we can possibly have to make sure the aquatic environment is a safe one,” Putney said.