In 2011, K.C. Zoo officials argued that people shouldn't have to go to Omaha to see penguins. The campaign logo was a penguin, and when voters approved the sales tax to inject $14 million a year in revenue, K.C. Zoo Director Randy Wisthoff exclaimed: “I think we've got Omaha on the ropes!”
Hey, no hard feelings from the Big O, where the zoo drew 1.7 million visitors last year. The K.C. Zoo has attracted about 700,000 a year, up from a low of 400,000.
The Kansas City Star reported that in opening its $15 million penguin exhibit on Oct. 25, the zoo “is lucky to have more than 40 of the iconic birds.” The Star said zoo officials had learned there is usually a three-year waiting period for penguins so other zoos have time to breed them. But Omaha and other zoos, impressed with Kansas City's plan, agreed to send existing birds.
Pate said it was more than professional courtesy for Omaha, which has about 90 penguins. “Zoos have to work together,” he said. “We had too many males, so moving some helped us out. And as part of the transaction, we got two unrelated females from an aquarium in Texas.”
Wisthoff, the K.C. Zoo director, spent 27 years at the Omaha zoo and has said it is held “in the highest esteem down here.” The K.C. Zoo already was receiving $3.5 million in tax revenue before the sales tax. The Doorly Zoo receives no direct city tax support, but the City of Omaha has sent the zoo keno gambling revenue — $1.6 million in next year's budget.