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Kansas City Zoo announces $10 million renovation of elephant exhibit

Posted at 5:38 PM, Aug 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-28 18:38:38-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — Big changes are coming to the elephant exhibit at the Kansas City Zoo.

Zoo Director Randy Wistoff announced a $10 million renovation Wednesday for one of the 202-acre zoo's crown jewels.

"This will be the third-largest project we've tackled," Wisthoff said.

The upgrades will include an enlarged viewing area, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pathways and restrooms, additional seating and shaded areas as well as an additional tram stop.

"We're trying to be as inclusive as we can and understand that everybody should be able to come to the zoo," Wisthoff said.

The area also will have restrooms that are air-conditioned, heated, gender-neutral and ADA-compliant. Additionally, there will be a private space for nursing mothers.

The three-acre exhibit hasn't received an upgrade since it was built in the 1990s. The newly announced project joins a long list of upgrades the zoo has undertaken in recent years — like Stingray Bay, Orangutan Canopy, and the Helzberg Penguin Plaza.

"I'm excited every time we can knock something down and replace it with something better," Wisthoff said.

The zoo hit a record high attendance in 2016 with roughly 1 million visitors. Attendance has hovered around 900,000 in 2017 and 2018.

Wisthoff hopes the upgrades to the elephant exhibit will draw more visitors, since they will be able to see the largest land mammals much easier.

The new habitat will come with all the bells and whistles for the elephants, including a new watering hole with a waterfall and water filtration system that will save about 100,000 gallons of water every few days. The upgrades also will provide extra sand and more shaded spaces.

About 80% of the money will come from the Zoological District tax, a 1/8th-cent tax levied in Jackson and Clay counties in Missouri.

The rest of the funding, which remains ongoing, will come from private donations.

Wisthoff said the project will be completed in three phases and there will be signs to inform visitors where they can see the elephants during construction.

It should be completed by Mother's Day weekend in 2020.