Such fabulous weather during spring break! What are the odds? The zoo has been packed with people, all enjoying the weather, the new babies, new food (try the burgers!) and cool stuff at the Safari Shoppe and, most of all, one another's company. Current spring baby inventory includes an alpaca, a Goeldi's monkey and a week-old Bactrian camel. All are very cute and growing rapidly, so don't wait too long to visit!

We have lots of projects under way on the grounds. The Marie Osterbuhr Aviary flight cage is closed while contractors remove the old mesh and replace many of the support poles of this 26-year-old exhibit, and the birds are taking a vacation off-exhibit in our winter holding facilities. We've added some fun new shade pergolas at the maned wolf and lion exhibits, and they were popular respites for shade seekers during the week's unseasonably warm temperatures.

Another odd sight that has people talking is the concrete structure going up in the west lion yard. Fortunately for the construction crew, which includes a number of zoo volunteers, the lions just get to watch curiously from the east yard, and not "help." Actually, I should say that there are some "Lions" that are helping. The Noon Lions Club donated funds to help build the new climbing structure. We appreciate their financial support, and are anxious to get the project completed and see what the pride thinks of it.

The artificial rock structure was custom designed by zoo staff to give the lion pride a high perch from which to look down on their world, lots of flat loafing space on several different levels and places for keepers to attach sturdy toys on cables to provide enrichment. We have included some plumbing to create a small waterfall they can drink from, and have designed the shape of the rock to provide shade during different times of the day without creating hiding places that would obstruct public viewing.

Also important to consider is the structural strength of the rock, since it will have to support the weight of our hefty male, Razi, who weighs well over 500 pounds. You can still see the interior of "pride rock," as additional concrete layers have yet to be added. Once this stage is complete, the concrete will cure for 30 days before painting gives it a more natural appearance.

We also plan to establish some native grass in the west yard before giving the lions access. Native grass will reduce weed growth, hold up to our climate better and provide a natural setting for these savannah animals. When the west yard is completed, the lion pride will be able to have access to both yards through a new connecting chute adjacent to the sidewalk. If time and finances permit, we may also redo the climbing structure in the east yard, but we hope that our construction timeline is impacted by anticipated changes in the zoo's lion population. We have been hoping for cubs for nearly two years now while waiting for the residual effects of a birth control implant to wear off in our female. And although Razi and Amali seem to be courting, we don't believe she is pregnant yet. Gestation is just three months, so we wouldn't have a long wait when it does happen, but nature won't be hurried.

In addition to the extra space provided by joining the two yards (the west lion yard was previously the tiger yard, and our two old male tigers passed away several years ago) another benefit is that if and when we do have cubs, Mom and babies will be able to be out in one yard while Dad and Grandma can enjoy the sunshine in the other. When our last litter of cubs was born, the two groups had to alternate days in the yard and that didn't make anyone happy, from the lions themselves, to the staff and the public! There was always one cat who didn't want to come in to give the other group their turn and, for some reason, lions didn't respond well to human reasoning! With two yards, everyone can go outside safely each day for R & R and public viewing.

So take advantage of this great weather and come see what's new at the zoo. We just launched our new website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org and plan on a fun new page to let the community vote on names for our baby camel and Goeldi's monkey. Watch for details soon!

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