What Do UMKC and the Kansas City Zoo Have in Common? Kangaroos

New partnership showcases a nine-decade history based on mutual admiration for the Roo
KC Roo at the Kansas City Zoo

The University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Kansas City Zoo are announcing a five-year partnership centered around their shared love of kangaroos. The relationship between the two Kansas City institutions dates back almost 90 years.

“Not many universities can claim a Roo for a mascot but, thanks to inspiration from the Kansas City Zoo all those years ago, UMKC embraced that unique identity,” said UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “At UMKC, we have an amazing Roo history, complete with a touch of Walt Disney magic.”

“Our partnership is a natural fit because the mission of the university and the Zoo is the same, and that is to educate and continually elevate our community through our work,” said Sean Putney, executive director and CEO of the Kansas City Zoo.

Venture into the Australia section of the Zoo, and one of the first things you’ll notice on a deck overlooking the kangaroo habitat is a UMKC-sponsored sign that chronicles the story of why a university in the middle of the United States chose an animal from the other side of the world as its mascot, and how famed local resident and animator Walt Disney became involved.

KC Roo points to UMKC signage at Bluey's deck in the Australia section of the Kansas City Zoo
New signage chronicles the relationship between the Kansas City Zoo and UMKC's beloved mascot, KC Roo

In 1936, the three-year-old university had yet to establish an athletics program, but the debate team was about to begin competing with other universities. Students eagerly got on board with the idea of creating a university mascot.

At the time, the city of Kansas City was eagerly anticipating some very exciting news at the Zoo. Jigger the kangaroo was pregnant and the whole town was awaiting news of her little one’s arrival. Inspired by the excitement and believing the mascot would stand out, students chose the kangaroo.

In 1938, Walt Disney responded to a student request to illustrate a Roo for the cover of a student-published humor magazine. Nearly a century later, the Disney Roo is still one of the best-known versions of KC Roo and is credited with solidifying the mascot’s history with UMKC. A cutout of the Disney Roo is at Bluey’s deck in Australia at the Zoo, perfect for selfies. A display on the history of the Roo shows its evolution over the decades, from its classic Roo to today’s bold Division I athletics Roo.

The UMKC sponsorship at the Zoo also has funded new accessible pathways throughout Australia, where the kangaroos and other animals from Down Under live.

The new displays and walkway are just the beginning of a beautiful partnership, according to Anne Hartung Spenner, UMKC vice chancellor of Strategic Marketing and Communications.

“Our sponsorship at the Zoo celebrates more than just inspiration for a beloved mascot,” Spenner said. “Both UMKC and the Zoo celebrate education and engagement in the community – so in our second year, we will be hosting interactive displays for children to learn about kangaroos and their habitat and will be looking for opportunities for our students to intern or volunteer at the Zoo.”

Spenner also looks forward to further highlighting how the Zoo and UMKC have partnered on the academic front as well. For example, UMKC School of Dentistry students regularly use their dental hygiene skills by cleaning the teeth of Zoo animals up to weekly each spring, a relationship that benefits both UMKC and the Zoo. And biology students watch animals at the Zoo to learn anatomy.

A kangaroo on the carousel at the Kansas City zoo is wearing a harness with the athletics roo logo and UMKC
Roos are everywhere at the Kansas City Zoo. From Bluey's deck in the Australia section, to the carousel near the entrance

 To kick off the partnership celebration, UMKC students, faculty, staff, alumni and leaders are holding a UMKC Roos at the Zoo Day on May 20. UMKC students and employees will receive discounted tickets and memberships as part of the kickoff celebration.

A kangaroo hops across the grass at the Kansas City Zoo

Kangaroo fun facts: UMKC and the Kansas City Zoo

  • Kangaroos can only move forward and not backwards. You can observe the red kangaroos at the Zoo to see for yourself! Taking inspiration from their movement, the university named a set of its major initiatives UMKC Forward.
  • A group of kangaroos is called a mob. The Zoo has a mob of 14 red kangaroos. This year, UMKC renamed its athletics pep band, comprised of UMKC Conservatory students, The Mob.
  • A red kangaroo can reach speeds of more than 35 miles per hour, allowing them to clear 25 feet in a single leap. You can watch the kangaroos in action at Bluey’s deck at the Zoo. Their agility and swiftness are why UMKC kept the Roo mascot when the university joined the NCAA Division I in 1987.


Published: May 17, 2023