Granted, we have visited many zoos since our childhoods, but Sedgwick County Zoo of Wichita, Kansas has much to boast about in the way of animal care, park presentation, amenities, and community involvement. We spent the better part of a winter Wednesday (in 2016) at the zoo, taking advantage of the Winter Wednesday Discount ($2.50 per person). We were able to view (and in some respects interact with) the many majestic creatures the zoo houses and learned a great deal about animal behaviors, habitats and care.
Sedgwick County Zoo sits at the southwest corner, away from the hustle and bustle of Wichita. The zoo is conveniently located on West Zoo Boulevard, via exit 10 of Interstate 235. This was a mere 12 minutes from our location at USI RV Park, much shorter if coming from downtown.
Opened in 1971, the zoo has undergone many animal and exhibit additions. Today, approximately 2,500 animals (500 species) call this almost 250 acres of property their home. Animals are grouped into exhibits based on related region with the exception of some specialty groups like penguins, reptiles and great apes. All animal habitats appeared well maintained and allowed ample room for animals to engage in activity and rest in privacy. Visitors were able to observe from many vantage points as most walkways wrap around the many enclosures.
Exhibits are set along a path that circles back to the entrance, allowing visitors easy access to all sections. We really enjoyed the detail included in each region-themed exhibit. Props displayed in each region really added to the authenticity of each location. We felt like we stepped into that particular landmass with some of the set-ups. The Nganda Village exhibit was probably our favorite with the barefoot imprints trailing to a bridge, brightly painted buildings, old jeep, and music.
Entrance to the Downing Gorilla Forest exhibit. The ambiance allows visitors to step into another region of the world right in the backyard of Wichita.
Attention to detail like this old safari jeep prop bring authenticity to the Nganda Village exhibit.
Another one of our favorite exhibits was the Tropics. Housed in a climate controlled building for the protection and preservation of native plants and animals (mainly of the winged-kind), visitors step into a tropical jungle paradise. Birds swoop about and walk along the pathways that traverse alongside lush, green vegetation and under waterfalls. Look up and you may see a family of fruit bats hanging around, upside down. We did!
All exhibits showcase information on each animal including (among other bullet points) mannerisms, habitat aspects, and lineage. Zookeepers and volunteers are regularly moving on the grounds, providing short speeches on different animals, offering demonstrations (like how to milk a cow), and feeding animals. Schedules of these daily events are posted throughout the zoo and at the designated exhibits. We saw a feeding at the farm exhibit, in the big red barn. It was pretty amazing to be in the midst of this gathering, all types of ranch and farm creatures sounding off as grains and seeds were filling up troughs.
Aside from the elaborate exhibits, Sedgwick County Zoo has a learning center, located near the entrance of the building, that is utilized for a number of workshops and activities geared towards educating the public on all things relative to animals, vegetation, community enhancement/ building, and zoo operations. Seminars, socials, overnight campouts, and class/home school field trips are regularly scheduled.
Sedgwick County Zoo also provides community awareness and learning opportunities through their annual activities specifically set up for ages ranging from toddler to senior citizen. Special zoo events include:
- Children’s Farm Festival (involves activities like shearing sheep),
- Party for the Planet (Earth Day celebration),
- Twilight Tuesdays (evening zoo visitations),
- Night of the Living Zoo (Halloween celebration),
- and as mentioned before
- Winter Wednesdays (ticket prices are astronomically slashed for the day).
Of course, these are a mere handful of the many signature zoo events that are orchestrated throughout the year.
The park, overall, was immaculate. We did not see one piece of litter on the ground and the bathrooms appeared to be cleaned daily. We ate at the zoo food court, appropriately named Plaza Beastro. There are a few more little diners throughout the park like the Big Bear Watering Hole, Nganda Cafe, and Kookaburra Canteen that do not open during the winter break. Menu items include hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, salads, soda, and ice cream. The items were slightly pricey, so bringing drinks (non-alcoholic) and a few snacks may be a cheaper route.
For those interested in a day at the zoo, take note, summer and winter hours vary. Beginning the first of Match, Sedgwick County Zoo opens its doors at 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Winter season begins in November when doors open later at 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Depending on age, admission into the park can run individuals anywhere from $9.95 to $14.95. Children, ages two and younger, get in for free. Admission tickets include unlimited tram rides around the park but exclude boat rides running through the North America exhibit and Gorilla Forest, along with individual giraffe feedings. Those activities can be purchased for an additional fee. For unlimited visits to the zoo (along with a slew of discounts) per year, visitors can opt to obtain membership status. Membership prices start at $96 for an adult plus guest and $76 for a senior citizen (62 years and older) plus guest.