As the year is drawing to a close, we naturally look back to consider the events of the past 365 days. Lee Richardson Zoo turned 85 years old. We celebrated throughout the year with seasonal festivities, including animal enrichment, keeper chats and other activities for our visitors. Our 85th year also saw the unveiling of a new logo which celebrates the hidden treasures that are Lee Richardson Zoo and Garden City.

As for highlights of the year 2012, uppermost in zoo staff's minds is the construction of Cat Canyon. A project that many have put much effort into is actually becoming a reality. Dirt has been moved and compacted, poles sunk into the ground, walls erected, pipes connected and buried, concrete poured, etc. Next year when the exhibit opens, it will surely be a stellar event for all involved, including the cats.

The cats aren't the only ones with changes in the works. Our red panda population has grown over the year and will hopefully continue to do so. We now have three red pandas, which in and of itself isn't that unusual for Lee Richardson Zoo. We've actually had up to four in the past, but now we have a young pair with a breeding recommendation from the SSP (Species Survival Plan) committee. SSPs are committees within AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) that collectively manage a species within the member zoos to ensure a healthy population. Along with our young pair, we also house the oldest red panda within AZA zoos. The record used to be 19 years and 4 months, but Firecracker already has had his 21st birthday and still is enjoying his morning stroll around his exhibit each day.

Speaking of elder statesmen of the zoo, there's none taller than Shingo, the 26-year-old male reticulated giraffe. He is currently the oldest male reticulated giraffe within AZA facilities. There are a number of females around that can call him younger, but all the other boys have to bow to him as their senior. While we proudly boast about our older residents of the zoo, it is tempered with the knowledge that at some point the circle of life will roll on without them, but until then, we do what we can to help them relish every single minute.

A zoo resident that is definitely enjoying herself is our newest Goeldi's monkey (Callimico goeldi). "Liliana" had a bit of a rocky start, requiring a few days of personal around-the-clock keeper care, but all is well now. When she isn't stealing a grape from her dad or harassing her big sister for a piggyback ride, she can be seen running and jumping around the exhibit in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary building. She is the youngest of two Goeldi's monkeys born into the family this year, the first callimicos to be born at Lee Richardson Zoo.

The animal members of the zoo also grew with the addition of a few new species. A pair of cockatiels and a barn owl joined the group of animals that take center stage during education presentations and a young female green tree python is now on exhibit in the nocturnal building at Wild Asia.

The zoo family continued to expand in another way during 2012. The education division staff reached out to people of all ages (a new record of more than 39,000 to date) through in-person presentations on grounds and off and through distance learning programs. Whether it's a big undertaking for a large crowd such as Earth Day or a more intimate learning experience for just a few, the goal is the same: connect people with nature.

Making a connection with Lee Richardson Zoo's African spurred tortoises was made easier with the addition of a new exhibit for the still growing 90-pounders. The chelonians now can be seen every day rather than being off exhibit for the winter. The facility was made possible through the generosity of the Clifford family and the Finnup Foundation.

Other zoo connections were reinforced with group discussions and zoo tours for Garden City Police Department, Fire Department and Finney County EMS personnel. While we all hope there won't be a need for emergency support at the zoo, it's important to be prepared. That was also the reason for a couple of training sessions during the year with colleagues throughout the state covering foreign animal disease outbreak response.

On a lighter note, 2012's Blues (and Barbeque) at the Zoo was the second event of its kind at Lee Richardson Zoo and doubled the attendance from the first. Talk about making a connection! Everyone who attended had a chance to enjoy good music (The Nighthawks), good food, good friends and time outdoors. At this time of year, as you look back on 2012, I hope your thoughts are full of good times with friends and family and the zoo, of course. Happy holidays!

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