Kansas City penguin exhibit joins the big leagues

Kansas City’s penguins will be waddling around in the newest and one of the best exhibits in North America specially designed to cater to the hugely popular birds.

There are roughly 2,700 penguins in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the genetic health of the population is considered stable without having to collect animals from the wild.

“Penguins are one of the most sustaining populations, as far as being able to breed and supply them for zoos that are opening or expanding exhibits,” said Tom Schneider, curator of birds at the Detroit Zoo and chairman of the Penguin Taxon Advisory Group, which monitors the captive population.

Many zoos with penguins, including regional neighbors in Denver, Wichita, Des Moines and Little Rock, have only temperate-climate species. They don’t require a cold environment, which is more expensive.

But Kansas City joins the ranks of the more ambitious.

The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha this year renovated its aquarium that includes more than 85 cold-climate penguins that can be viewed through a 60-foot long, 25-foot high window.

The Calgary Zoo opened a popular penguin exhibit last year with a 9,200-gallon outside pool and a 32,000-gallon inside pool for cold-climate penguins.

Some zoos claim bragging rights.

The Detroit Zoo in 1968 opened what it says was the first exhibit in North America designed specifically for penguins. It was renovated in 1985.

Seaworld San Diego 30 years ago opened what it says was the first penguin exhibit with a simulated Antarctic habitat. It now has nearly 350 birds of five species including the largest, emperor.

The Saint Louis Zoo says it had the first walk-through sub-Antarctic penguin exhibit in North America. But it is closing this fall for a year and half while the zoo builds a new polar bear habitat.

Seaworld Orlando opened a penguin exhibit this spring that also has emperors as well as what may be the first Antarctic “ride” for visitors.