Nikita won’t be around, but the Kansas City Zoo in 2016 in all likelihood will top 1 million visitors, a record in its more than 100-year history.
Attendance at the zoo in Swope Park was more than 900,000 this year, zoo officials announced recently. Great attractions are responsible for making the zoo a destination trip for out-of-town visitors as well as from people throughout the metropolitan area.
That’s a vast change from 25 to 30 years ago when the zoo was widely criticized.
The African section was a draw when it opened in 1995. Answering people’s complaints about long walks, a shortcut to the African section opened in addition to an old-fashioned carousel.
People have been drawn to the new zoo entrance with closer parking — again resulting in shorter walks for visitors. Add to that the renovated tropics building.
People have been impressed by an $11 million polar bear exhibit and of course, Nikita. They love the sky ride — again for less walking that it encourages. A $15 million penguin exhibit has been a hit with the $6 million orangutan exhibit.
The goal is for the zoo to draw 1.025 million visitors in 2016 and 1.1 million in 2017, The Kansas City Star reports.
Nine-year-old Nikita, who came to the Kansas City Zoo in 2010, will miss it all. He ships out on Jan. 3 for the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, where he is expected to mate and hopefully have cubs with a 15-year-old female bear named Anana.
Nikita will be doing his part to help his species. Polar Bears International is helping lead efforts to preserve polar bears. They are endangered by climate change.
Only about 60 polar bears are in zoos under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the U.S.
The Kansas City Zoo will keep Berlin, its 26-year-old female polar bear. She came to the zoo in 2013 in hopes of mating with Nikita.
It wasn’t in the cards, and now Berlin is beyond her breeding years. Polar bears live into their mid-30s in captivity.
Nikita perhaps will return to the Kansas City Zoo someday and maybe bring some of his offspring with him to wow even more zoo visitors.