Kansas turned 149 years old yesterday. In its statehood, Kansas has participated in the Civil War and provided a haven for former slaves. It was the first state to prohibit alcohol and continues to be the sixth driest state in the union. Through two world wars, the Depression and the Dust Bowl, Kansas has grown to become one of the nation's best agricultural producers.
At the relatively young age of 83 years old, Lee Richardson Zoo also has seen a lot of changes in its history. In the beginning, there were skunks. That was it. Today, the zoo is home to 110 different species and more than 300 individual animals. We have gone from basic brick and steel enclosures to modern exhibits that provide elements similar to the animals' natural environments. Despite the dramatic changes the zoo has gone through, when I have the opportunity to talk to some of our local residents, they don't tell me stories about the year the name changed from Garden City Zoo to Lee Richardson Zoo, or when the drive-through road was built or even about the flood of 1965. The stories people tell are about the animals.
In 1948, two 8-month-old polar bear cubs were brought from Alaska by the Stanolind Oil company and donated to the zoo. While the zoo has not been home to polar bears since 1975, this pair left a lasting impression. I have heard many stories about how people used to watch these amazing Arctic animals in their exhibit.
Lions have been another popular favorite throughout the years. The zoo obtained its first African lion in the fall of 1927 and has had lions ever since. Of course, adult lions are nice to see, but baby lions are even nicer. While you can no longer see our cubs being hand reared or walked on leashes around town, they are still fun to see playing with their family in their exhibit. In fact, watching the three cubs we currently have interact with their father has the power to keep a person enthralled for hours.
There is one event at the zoo that is so memorable that it made it into one of our museum's exhibits. When the pool closed to swimmers at the end of each summer in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the two young female elephants we had at that time, Moki and Chana, were given the opportunity to swim and play in the water. This was an exciting event for all involved and drew many spectators each year. Today, our current elephants, Missy and Kimba, have a pool of their own in their exhibit, and the Big Pool has an elephant kiddy slide instead of real elephants.
The zoo isn't done changing yet. New animals are being born, exhibits are being created and things are getting rearranged. You might have a close call with our rhino's territorial marking or get to watch a baby alpaca take its first steps. There is no telling what may be in store for you, so visit us soon to create memories that will last you a lifetime.
Visit our award-winning Web site at www.garden-city.org/zoo.