There's an old joke that asks, "Where does a 500-pound gorilla sleep?" The punchline is, "Anywhere it wants to." To a big extent that's true of a lot of things with animals, including ones that live in a zoo. Much of the daily operation is based on cooperation between individuals, whether it involves a 500-pound gorilla and its keeper, or any number of other partnerships displayed throughout the day.
Lee Richardson Zoo contracts with Garden City Veterinary Clinic to make sure the veterinary needs of the animals at the zoo are met. Dr. Tuller makes regular scheduled rounds but also has to be able to work in the periodic unscheduled needs of a zoo animal. Dillons, Huber's and Quiznos provide food items for the animals to eat, and we gladly accept the donations on behalf of the animals.
How do you weigh a full-grown elephant? (No, this isn't another old joke.) We call the Kansas Highway Patrol Motor Carrier Inspection Division. They bring out their truck scales for the unusual job. The keepers work regularly with the elephants to train them to stand on the scales (another cooperative effort) so we can track their weight as part of their health care program.
Hamerkops (a bird species in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary) are well-known for the enormous nests they build. When we had just one hamerkop there wasn't much building going on, but with the addition of another hamerkop, keepers hardly can keep enough nest-building supplies in the area. Our male generally does most of the gathering of the nesting materials, and the female places it just so after he brings it to the construction site. A collaborative effort is also behind the educational programs offered at Lee Richardson Zoo. The members of the Education Division and the docents combine their knowledge and talents to create the interesting sessions for all ages. Many of the programs involve a cooperating member of the animal kingdom who is cared for day in and day out by a member of the keeper staff (with the maintenance division right there to fix whatever may need fixing).
Our bearded barbets currently are tending eggs in their nestbox. Each parent bird takes its turn incubating the eggs. At night they both sleep in the nestbox. When the keeper checked on the nestbox contents with a long thin scope, she saw an egg and then withdrew the scope with the male barbet holding on to it firmly with his beak, being ever-diligent in his job of protecting the nest. Diligence and cooperation is also the key to the upkeep of the zoo. Between the maintenance and animal divisions, there are always numerous projects under way, many of them taking a bit of teamwork, including the cooperation of the animals (i.e the lions must cooperate and go inside for their yard to be mowed or for planks to be added to their exhibit platform, the elephants need to be inside for misters to be secured on top of their enrichment structure on exhibit, etc.).
How does a burrowing owl get from Chicago to Garden City? It flies in on an airplane after staff at the respective zoos (keepers, veterinarians, curators and registrars) have had numerous discussions (including ones with the manager of the AZA PMP — Population Management Plan — for burrowing owls and with the airlines), filled out and sent a number of forms back and forth and completed pre-shipment health tests. The results of the effort are, hopefully, a compatible pair of birds that eventually will produce more burrowing owls. Each person and animal involved plays a role in the outcome. Improvements at the zoo come about in a similar manner. The efforts of the zoo staff, city of Garden City, Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo, and the numerous zoo visitors and supporters come together, creatively blending the efforts of all for the betterment of the zoo. In all of these cases, if any of the parties don't fulfill their role it makes it harder for the others to reach the goal whether it is producing a baby bird, weighing an elephant or improving the zoo. Lee Richardson Zoo is what it is due to the sum of all the efforts of all contributors (staff, donors, volunteers, etc.). Thank you for all you do.
Visit our award-winning website at www.garden-city.org/zoo.