Kansas City, Mo If you walk past the exhibits at the Kansas City Zoological Park these days, you'll see plenty of new faces peering back at you.
In recent months, a different crowd of critters has taken up residence in the sprawling zoo, located off Interstate 435 and 63rd Street in Kansas City, Mo.
Stroll through the zoo and you'll spy a host of exotic creatures, many of whom have never before made their homes there.
Even their names arouse one's curiosity, hinting at bright plumage, mysterious nocturnal habits and potentially weird mating rituals. They sound like they've come to the zoo straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Among the newcomers are the fat-tailed gecko, panepinto micropigs, helmeted guinea fowl and a lappet-faced vulture. There are four red-capped mangabey, a Wompoo fruit dove and several straw-necked ibis chicks.
Oh, and don't forget the kinkajou, a rhinoceros hornbill, a crested screamer and one South American tree-dwelling tamandua.
No, you haven't tuned into Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom."
Starting in February, the zoo began to roll out a program called 150 New Animals, in cooperation with the program's supporting partner, Kansas City Power & Light.
To help celebrate Kansas City's 150th birthday, that same number of new animals will be introduced into the zoo by December 2000.
The addition of the animals will increase the 200-acre zoo's collection by 10 percent, with introductions to each area of the zoo from Africa to Australia.
The zoo, which is the country's 10th largest, has about 1,400 animals living amid wide-open, naturalistic settings.
All the new animals will become a permanent part of the zoo.
"For the last four years, we've been looking at doing special summer exhibits or campaigns that would give people a reason to come back to the zoo," says Denise Rendina, the zoo's media relations manager.
Kansas City's sesquicentennial seemed like a good occasion to build a program around.
"In February, we kicked off with the arrival of the first of 150 animals. Some of them are brand-new species to the zoo, and some are additional animals from species that we already have."
Rendina credits the program with creating a sense of excitement and anticipation about the zoo.
"I think the buzz out in the community has been great. The response of the public coming out has been fun. And it's great, because these animals get to stay, and people can enjoy them for many years," she says.
The 150 New Animals program got off to a strong start with the Feb. 15 birth of Kitale, a female Masai giraffe.
In past years, the Zoo's special programs were typically scheduled from April or May to September.
"But we had to spread this program out, because you can't bring in too many animals at once," Rendina says.
So new animals are introduced into the zoo in small numbers at a measured pace.
Denise Rendina, Kansas City Zoological Park
"It took a lot of behind-the-scenes work to schedule our quarantine space, then to get them acclimated and into a new area. You don't throw two groups of baboons that have their own hierarchies in together and say, 'Here you go.' You just don't do that."
Everyone loves babies
Despite all the rare and unusual creatures that make up much of the incoming group of animals, some of the more common zoo animals appear to be drawing the most interest. Among the most popular with visitors are Halla the baby chimpanzee, who was born at the zoo May 1; Kitale the baby giraffe; and five ostriches who are new to the zoo.
That's OK with Rendina.
"Some people love snakes, some people love bats and some people love baby chimps. Whatever it is that makes them feel in touch with nature and connected, then we've done our job," she says.
"All these animals add depth. Whether it be a birth or a new species you've brought in, you want to give people a reason to come back to the zoo and learn about nature."
If you've been planning an expedition to the Kansas City Zoo, this could be a perfect time to do it.
"The neat part is that we'll still be able to announce new animals in September and October, which are beautiful months to come here. People really should take advantage of that."