People were waiting at the gate in 32-degree weather Friday morning for the opening of the Kansas City Zoo’s new penguin exhibit.
The zoo averaged about 1,000 people an hour throughout the day and visitors stood in line to see the birds cavort in their new $15 million home.
“For a Friday in October, that’s phenomenal,” said zoo director Randy Wisthoff. “The city just seems to be abuzz about penguins.”
The reviews were raves.
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“I love them, they’re so cool,’ said 6-year-old Maggie Dunaway of Kansas City, who wants a penguin of her own. “We could buy a pool and put it in and then fill it with really cold water.”
The separate jelly fish tank in the exhibit was not yet stocked, and the water in the 100,000-gallon cold pool for penguins was cloudier than it should have been after staff did a backwash, or reverse filter operation, Friday morning.
Animal director Sean Putney said that in the future they will perform that procedure at night.
“It’s one of the things we’re learning,” he said.
But it was not a problem, judging from the face and hand prints on the viewing glass that keepers were constantly wiping clean all day.
Eight-year-old Derek Lyons of Kansas City beamed when he put his finger to the glass and a penguin put its beak on the other side.
“Apparently, they are as interested in seeing us as we are in seeing them,” said Derek’s mother, Elaine Lyons. “They are so close. They are right up in your face.”
Derek was visiting the zoo with his 5-year-old sister, Eliza Lyons, and 5-year-old Marie Claire Goudiaby.
“I think the kids are having ‘Happy Feet’ flashbacks,” said Elaine Lyons, referring to the popular animated movie about penguins.
Visitors on Friday included a couple of serious penguin fans from Washington state who told keepers they made the trip to Kansas City just to see the new exhibit.
Penguin plush toys sold briskly at the gift shop and at a temporary stand outside the exhibit exit. The zoo also seized the occasion to sell memberships, offering free penguin T-shirts to those who signed up.
The penguins will be among the most photographed animals at the zoo. People raised their phones aloft Friday to get shots and video above the heads of those in front.
“It’s kind of crowded,” allowed Ekua Quagraine of Kansas City. “But you’ve got to expect that on the first day,” said her companion, Ekow Quagraine. Both thought their visit was worth it.
So did Friends of the Zoo member Amy Beckham of Basehor, who brought her daughter, 3-year-old Mika Beckham, and nephews 4-year-old Carsen Denney and 6-year old Aidan Denney to see the penguins.
“They don’t want to leave,” said Beckham, who added that their relatively short wait in line was made enjoyable by docents talking about penguins and showing pictures and feathers of the different species.
Rob Rowland of Gladstone thought a trip to the zoo was a good activity to share with his 7-year-old son, Rex Rowland, who was off school Friday and who wants to be a veterinarian someday.
“I can’t pull him away,” dad said patiently.
Rex had seen penguins on television but not in real life. His favorite part?
“When they come up to the glass and when they hop up on the land and jump into the water,” he said.