It's been a zoo at the zoo lately, with so much going on it is hard to keep track of everything. In addition to great weather and lots of visitors through the zoo and Safari Shoppe, we have lots of projects going on behind and in front of the scenes. You may have been following the progress of the aviary flight cage, which is being replaced after 26 years of existence. The poles and mesh were showing their age, and were becoming less supportive when beset with heavy loads of ice and snow over the years, so we are replacing both.

A local contractor has been removing most of the old utility poles and setting new or newer used poles, setting anchors, and guying select poles to create better support for the mesh top and sides. The mesh will be replaced by a specialty contractor out of Phoenix in late May or early June. We had hoped to have this project completed in time for the birds to return in May, but delays in work have pushed our timeline back a bit.

Another project on the drawing board is Cat Canyon, and everyone is curious what is happening with that. We opened contractor bids for Cat Canyon in February and all of the bids came in higher than expected. Since the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo are committed to having all the funds for a new exhibit on hand before construction begins, all of the bids were rejected as they were more than FOLRZ had raised for the project. Over the last few months we have been working with the architects and consulting with a local contractor to identify components where plans could be revised to ensure cost savings when we rebid. The revised construction documents are just about ready and we hope to put the project back out for bid next month, and still be able to start construction later in the summer. We greatly appreciate the community's patience and support, and want to assure everyone that we are as determined (if not more!) to complete Cat Canyon as soon as possible. Our jaguars, bobcats and mountain lion are counting on us for a new home.

A new climbing structure is nearly complete in the west lion yard. Over the next few weeks, we will be painting the rock, connecting plumbing for a small waterfall on the "rock," and eradicating the weeds in the yard (which was formerly the tiger yard) and replacing them with a mix of native grass. This will make a more attractive environment for the king of beasts and his minions (Razi, Amali and Classie). We have the Noon Lions Club to thank for providing funds to help build the new pride rock.

And if all that wasn't enough to keep us busy, the generosity of a local family, along with the Finnup Foundation, has enabled us to complete our fundraising for a new African Spurred Tortoise exhibit just east of the aviary. Currently these popular zoo residents spend nice weather in a grassy yard west of the giraffe barn, but during the winter and on cold evenings in spring and fall, they must be moved off exhibit to warmer quarters. Our new tortoise exhibit will include a yard adjacent to a small building designed specifically to meet the needs of these 90-pound reptiles. As they grow to more than 200 pounds and become more difficult to carry around, this will give the tortoises easy access to shelter, and a public viewing window into the building will enable visitors to see these cool chelonians year-round regardless of the weather. We are currently making plans to relocate the vultures and hawk that live at the tortoise site now, and remove the very old and unsightly flight cage that exists there. We hope to begin construction in the next month or so.

We know progress can be messy and inconvenient, but we are excited about the improvements that are coming to your zoo, so please bear with us. It looks like it's going to be a great summer, so plan a visit soon.

Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org (note the new address!).