Published 12/3/2012 in Local NewsBy BECKY MALEWITZ
Crossing the bridge between the alpaca and flamingo pens at Lee Richardson Zoo, a loud greeting comes from the spider monkey cage not far away.
Becky Malewitz/Telegram Kristi Newland holds out alfalfa to one of the alpacas at the zoo.
"That's just Daisy saying 'hi'," Lee Richardson Zoo General Curator and Deputy Director Kristi Newland said, continuing to walk across the zoo's grounds.
Newland, who has worked at the zoo for seven years, has been a fan of animals since she was a youngster living in Parsons.
"I just always thought when I was little that animals were easier to understand than people," she said. "Everybody's an individual. Whether it is an elephant or a maine wolf, they all have their own idiosyncrasies, their own personalities."
Newland's passion for animals led her to pursue a degree in biology, with an emphasis in zoology and a minor in business, from Emporia State University in 1984.
Three days after graduation, she started a night keeper job at the Sedgwick County Zoo, where she spent 13 1/2 years, working her way up to the head keeper position, which she left to accept an assistant curator job in Memphis, Tenn. She stayed there for eight years, before accepting her current position in Garden City.
"I used to shovel a lot of the other stuff, now I shovel paperwork," Newland joked about the various jobs she has held in her zoology career.
As General Curator, Newland says she enjoys the animal births, seeing kids making connections with wildlife and helping young keepers learn and grow. But there is also a downside to working so closely with animals.
"It's a whole lot more then anybody could ever think it is. Until you get into it, you don't know all the ins and outs, the hours that go into it and the heartache that can happen, too. Because there's the good side — the births. And there is also the bad side. There is a circle of life, and you get connected, and they do pass away," she said.
Newland constantly is working on projects to expand and improve Lee Richardson Zoo and make it a better experience for visitors and the animals. Some of the current projects include the construction of Cat Canyon, possible expansion of the elephant yard, and zoo is getting ready to try and breed two of its red pandas.
According to Newland, the Garden City community is a big part of why Lee Richardson Zoo is so successful.
"The community support we have here is just fantastic, whether it is from the city or from just the citizens of Garden City and the surrounding area. It's just really nice to see how involved and how appreciative the folks are in the public," she said.
Zoology has changed since Newland entered what was a male dominated field in 1984. Demographics have shifted, and the field has become more competitive. But 28 years after graduating from college, she has found what she is looking for in Garden City.
"The zoo field, it's more than anybody can think it is: majorly competitive, heartwarming, heartaching. And working in Garden City is just marvelous," she said.
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