We invite you to join us at 1 p.m. Sunday as Lee Richardson Zoo's Cat Canyon opens for the public. Grand opening activities will take place from 1 to 3 p.m., after which the exhibit will be open for regular zoo hours.

I look at that announcement and get lost in the thoughts of all that it took to get to this point. Proceeds from quite a few Boo! At the Zoos and A Wild Affairs laid the base for this Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo funded improvement. Hard work by the FOLRZ staff, board members and volunteers made each of those events a success. Then there are the grants and donations from a number of supporters that pushed the Cat Canyon project over the top, making it a reality.

Let's not forget two memorable theatrical creations: Cat Tales, and Animal Crackers in My Zoop. Not only were they both entertaining, but the effort and grass roots support for the project that they represented was uplifting and heart-warming. The architects (WDM of Wichita) and contractors (Harbin Construction of Salina) had a lot to do with the success of the project, too. Without any of them, we may not be where we are now. Of course, we can't forget the hard-working staff of the zoo. And then, there's the cats themselves.

The cats of Cat Canyon: three (yes three) black jaguars occupy the center exhibit at Cat Canyon. These are melanistic versions of the jaguar, which is normally a tawny color with black rosettes. In the right light you can still see the spots against their black coats. Bianca and Amelia are 16-year-old sisters and have been at Lee Richardson Zoo for most of their lives, having arrived here when they were 10 months old. Between the two of them, Bianca is normally in charge but there are times when Amelia rules. They have recently been joined by Kira, a 12-year-old female out of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. During the introduction process, there were some swats and hisses and even some nuzzling as time went on, but generally a good amount of ignoring each other went on also. Jaguars are the biggest cat in the Americas, and the third largest of all after the lion and tiger.

Kira was the first cat to occupy Cat Canyon. She moved straight in upon her arrival from Nebraska. This gave her time to settle in a bit, but not enough to set up a territory she'd try to defend before the sisters moved over. Bianca and Amelia each had physicals and dental cleanings (if needed) on their trips from "COA" to "CC" (zoo staff tends to abbreviate the facilities for quickness and ease of communications). All three jaguars now call Cat Canyon home.

Cactus and Bobby, the bobcats, didn't stop for visits to the veterinarian on the way to their new home. They just moved right in. Cactus, an 11-year-old female, has been a little unsure of the situation but is warming to her new surroundings. She has found a favorite place in her new outside yard inside the large hollow log. Bobby the bobcat is the old man of the exhibit at 20 years of age. Born at the Tulsa Zoo, he's been here for 18 years. Bobby has taken the move more in stride and was quicker to shift and explore the new exhibit than his counterpart Cactus.

The third yard at Cat Canyon is occupied by Payton, the mountain lion. He's 12 years old and recently moved to Lee Richardson Zoo from Sedgwick County Zoo. Initially he has shown a preference for a couple certain areas in his yard: by the pampas grass by the building, and in his cave, which was added to the exhibit in the last month (a concrete, rebar and rock creation by Mark Sexson). Like many of us, Payton has the tendency to easily put on too many pounds if he gets too many treats. The mountain lion is the largest wildcat in North America.

These are the residents of the new Cat Canyon exhibit at Lee Richardson Zoo. The exhibit offers the cats and staff roomier off-exhibit areas as well as larger and more naturalistic exhibits for all to enjoy. Come join us in our celebration of the completion of Cat Canyon.

Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org for more updates on zoo happenings.