The New and Improved Kansas City Zoo

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

My eyes have not yet adjusted to the darkness, and I must use other senses to feel my way down the narrow irregular path. An eerily enchanting woman's voice guides me forward. "We have been wild thousands of times longer than we have been civilized."

I try to focus on what is in front of me, but see only tree shadows cast upon the floor and the walls. Flashes of light reveal branches arching overhead and strange noises make me shudder. I feel something fly by my head, then convince myself it was just a puff of air.

From this primordial forest, the path leads me forward through time. Off to my right, a campfire glows and primitive tools lay scattered, as if their owners had recently fled. The eyes and teeth of a large predator flash above me on a cliff. Its threatening screams scare me forward, as it had my ancestors. I am soundly reminded that humans were once the hunted, not the hunters.

The next scene illustrates the beginning of human separation from nature. A wooden shelter and fence show that man has learned to use necessary plants and animals for survival. From up ahead, a blast of hot air hits my face. As I move forward, the noises of modern civilization drown out all sounds of nature. Cars honk, a radio blares and I find myself on an urban city block.

I have traveled from one extreme to the other and am reminded of how detached from nature most of us have become. As a welcome relief from the hot breath of the city, another glade of trees draws me out of the urban chaos and I return to nature. This forest feels like a magical place, filled with great intelligence.

Images of animals and of man are projected up onto the leaves. The woman's voice tells of humans as the hope of the planet. The faces of an eagle, a monkey and a human baby stare down at me. "When you see the animals on your safari today, look into their eyes and say you'll help. Or say goodbye forever."

I have just gone through "The Journey" in the Deramus Education Pavilion of the Kansas City Zoological Gardens. The Kansas City Zoo has completed a $71 million renovation and expansion project to make itself a model for zoos of the future. The Missouri Department of Conservation helped make possible the Deramus Education

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