Zoo chief

3/29/2014

Sexson skillfully handled challenges of local venue.

Sexson skillfully handled challenges of local venue.

Lee Richardson Zoo has been an outstanding attraction for decades.

Since its inception in 1927, the Garden City zoo has been guided by a number of different leaders, all charged with helping the venue evolve and maintain excellence.

And now, the current director of the local zoo has brought her 30-year career to a close.

Kathy Sexson spent time in the zoo's education division early on, and went on to serve as deputy director before replacing Dan Baffa as director in 2005.

Sexson was part of many milestones at the zoo, including the facility's first Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accreditation in 1986, and was instrumental in maintaining that important recognition.

AZA accreditation — the gold standard in the zoo industry — addresses all aspects of operations in animal care, keeper training, educational programs, conservation efforts, veterinary programs, financial stability, risk management, visitor services, safety for visitors, staff and animals, and more. Only a small percentage of zoos nationwide achieve the lofty status.

Beyond accreditation, Sexson also was charged with making sure the zoo grew in its ability to lure visitors from across the globe.

The zoo flourished on that count during Sexson's tenure, with a number of new events and notable improvements. The September 2013 opening of the impressive Cat Canyon exhibit was but one recent example of welcome change.

The local zoo now draws some 200,000 visitors a year who take in entertaining and educational exhibits that help promote appreciation and stewardship of our natural world. The zoo's exceptional distance-learning programs also garner much attention.

Of course, Sexson had an accomplished, dedicated staff to rely on over the years. The Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo and many volunteers also deserve credit — as do city leaders and zoo patrons for their continued commitment to the facility.

While an army of staff and supporters is necessary to keep the zoo in top shape, city officials now have the challenge of bringing in a new director capable of juggling the many duties required to make sure the mission is accomplished.

Give Sexson credit for setting a fine example in that regard.

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