The Kansas City Zoo, once a provincial institution, is building a reputation in conservation circles for its work from Namibia to Wyoming to Peru.
In addition to caring for more than 1,000 animals here, the zoo works on research and breeding projects that include brown and spotted hyenas, Panamanian golden frogs and Humboldt penguins.
The zoo this year began setting aside 25 cents of every paid admission and from $2 to $10 of every membership to raise at least $200,000 a year for conservation projects in the field.
“The field could be outside the gate to around the planet,” said zoo director Randy Wisthoff, adding that the zoo is nearing completion of a strategic conservation plan to guide its efforts.
For the past five years, zoo veterinarian Kirk Suedmeyer has been spending two or three weeks each June in southern Namibia helping with a project to dart brown hyenas, do a health assessment of them and collar them with a tracking device.
“We’re trying to determine the population size, which will impact diamond mining along the coast,” Suedmeyer said. “The government is relying on that information so they can mitigate any conflict with brown hyenas.”
The project is expanding to include work with jackals, caracals and cheetahs.
Because of his work in Namibia, Suedmeyer last year was asked to travel to Jordan to conduct a workshop for ecologists on collaring and tracking spotted hyenas.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Zoo, which opened a penguin exhibit in 2013, has joined a consortium with the Saint Louis Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago to work with Humboldt penguins in Punta San Juan, Peru. Sean Putney, director of living collections here, traveled there last year to learn more about the program.
For several years, the zoo has been working with the Missouri Department of Conservation to raise endangered and threatened mussels in its lagoon for introduction to rivers and streams in the state.
The zoo also works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to raise Wyoming toads to be reintroduced to the wild.
“They used to be one of the most widely found animals in the Laramie Basin, and now you can hardly find them at all,” said Putney, who is the coordinator of the Wyoming toad species survival plan.
The zoo’s Kelly Martin is the educational liaison for Wyoming toads, and curator Joni Hartman is the species survival plan coordinator for the Parma wallaby.
The zoo also is actively involved in several breeding programs here at home. Recently, the zoo acquired 10 endangered Panamanian golden frogs, an African wild dog and a male oryx. The zoo has produced a baby chimp, red panda and giraffe in the last couple of years.
Zoo staffers traveled to California five years ago to collect two orphaned sea lion pups for the exhibit here.
“It’s good for the staff to get out there, get more training and meet other people in the industry,” Putney said. “As a zoo, if you have the ability and have some money, it’s a feel-good deal trying to help some of these animals in the wild.”