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Zoo Me, Baby

The Kansas City Zoo wants to make a gladiator out of YOU!


A few weeks after the Parks Board spent part of a December 3 meeting listening to Kansas City Zoo officials admit that the zoological park is so dull it isn't worth the price of admission, Parks and Rec Commissioner Bob Lewellen appeared to take a public-relations campaign to the Star's gossip columnist.

A January 17 column in the Star quoted a jaunty Lewellen noting that "They made a zoo for the animals and not for the public. They forgot about the two-legged animal that has to be entertained."

We hand it to Bob! We're sick of hearing about education blah blah blah and blah conservation blah blah. Hey, if you're gonna spend millions of taxpayer dollars to yank wild critters out of the African jungle and stick them behind bars, at least be candid about why you're doing it. For fun and profit, of course!

Zoo attendance has plunged by 275,000 in the past five years, and the zoo was $1 million in the red at the end of 2002. This past fall, Bernstein-Rein Advertising conducted a survey, and the results show what we all know anyway -- middle-class Kansas Citians and their kiddies are soooo booooored with the zoo. They don't want to squint out over a phony savanna hoping to spot grazing gazelle. They want amusement! Especially important, the survey says, are more interactions with the animals and more kid-friendly stuff.

So here are our suggestions for fun, fun activities we imagine could be coming soon to the Kansas City Zoo. For inspiration, we've looked to ancient Rome, where sports involving human-animal interaction thrilled Colosseum crowds.

Lion Pit Bungee Jumping! Imagine standing on a 200-foot bridge spanning a pit filled with twenty snarling lions. Hungry lions. You strap on your harness, attached to a 100-foot rubber cord. Your heart starts to hammer as you look down -- way down -- at the ferocious beasts glowering at YOU as if you were a piece of meat (well, actually ... ). Beads of sweat pop out on your forehead as you creep toward the edge and prepare to experience the ultimate extreme adventure ($200 a person).

Canned "Hunt" Safari! You arrive at the zoo just as rays of morning sun light up the pink sky over Swope Park. A zookeeper leads you and ten other adventurers into a fenced 5-acre wilderness populated by assorted exotic animals borrowed from exhibits around the Kansas City Zoo. Your pulse quickens as you hear a loud roar in the distance. Your guide, dressed in camouflage, hands you a tranquilizer gun. (Sorry, but the animals must be recycled.) Then you're turned loose. If you're lucky, you could bag a wildebeest, a gemsbok or even a scimitar-horned oryx! ($500 includes a Polaroid of you with your "kill" and a pelt from the zoo's stockpile from recent animal deaths.)

Hippopotamus-Drawn Chariot Rides! That lame train doesn't really take visitors through the zoo anyway. And forget walking. Here's the ultimate zoo people mover! Hop aboard an ornate chariot just like the one Marc Antony drove, pulled by hippopotami (more fun than the lions that allegedly pulled his). Purchase a toy whip for the kids ($50 an hour)!

Gorilla Face Painting! So, the little monsters have had their faces painted, but have they ever painted the face of ... a gorilla? For a small fee, your little artistes can step into the Kansas City Zoo's state-of-the-art face-painting room and put their finger-painting talents to use decorating the mug of a 400-pound lowland gorilla. Don't worry -- the gorilla is elderly, has had its teeth pulled and will be mildly sedated to ensure that no little ones get hurt ($20 a kid).

Swim With Alligators! Wowwee! Strip down to your skivvies and hop into the Kansas City Zoo's brand-new attraction: The Swamp. It's murky. It's muddy. It's oozy. And best of all, it's filled with real, live, ornery alligators! Don't be too afraid, though. The reptiles' jaws have been wired shut so they can't take a bite out of you when you grab their tails. ($80 buys a half-hour swim.)

Let the fun begin!

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