Where did that animal come from? What do they eat? Where's the water fountain? Those are only a few of the numerous questions that bubble up during a visit to the zoo. Asking questions is a wonderful way to grow. It shows an active and engaged mind and a desire to learn. And learning is what the zoo is all about.

Where are the animals from?

The graphics at each exhibit will show what part of the world the species is native to. The graphics also contain many other interesting facts about the animals: endangered status, what they eat in the wild and more. As far as the individual animals are concerned, odds are they were either born here or at another zoo. Rarely do animals come out of the wild anymore to populate zoos.

What do the animals eat?

A mainstay for the hooved species is grass hay or alfalfa. But with the varied collection that lives at Lee Richardson Zoo the answer to that question is as varied as the species. Diets range from a special insectivore chow for the anteater and hedgehogs to meat for the carnivores. There is a whole industry focused on making feeds for animals, from pets to those on farms and those in zoos. The various grains, pellets and chows as well as meats are designed to meet all the nutritional needs of the animal concerned. Then, besides the basic nutritionally well-rounded chow or meat that is the center of the diet, we add fruits, vegetables, bones or other items for a little variety and to encourage natural behaviors.

Can I feed the animals?

Each animal is on a special diet designed specifically for them. Not only is it designed by species but also by individual. Some may have medical issues, allergies or need to lose weight or even gain weight. All of that and more is considered in developing their diet. Many of the animals are offered browse tree limbs with or without leaves to chew on. That, too, is selected and offered with care since many species of trees are actually toxic if eaten.

Can I pet the animals?

The animals on display at the zoo are here for your viewing pleasure. Reaching through the fence or over the fence to pet an animal on the other side can be dangerous for the visitor and the animal both. While they are used to people to some extent, the animals at the zoo are not pets to be played with. They are ambassadors for their counterparts in the wild here to give us a peek into their world. The Education Department offers presentations which allow a more up close visit with some smaller members of the animal kingdom. If interested in scheduling a program please call 276-1250.

Where are the water fountains?

We have five public water fountains: one by the public restroom west of the lion exhibit, one in Wild Asia by the nocturnal building, one by the public restroom near the playground west of Wild Asia and two water fountains in Finnup Center for Conservation Education (open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday). If you're interested in a broader selection, there are a number of drink machines throughout the zoo, or you can visit the counter at the Safari Shoppe (located at the pedestrian entrance of the zoo) for something to quench your thirst. All proceeds at the Safari Shoppe benefit the zoo. For your added convenience, in addition to the public restrooms already mentioned, you can find a restroom in Finnup Center and also by the locomotive north of the rhinoceros exhibit.

How do I become a zookeeper?

Stay in school. These days many zoos require a college degree. There are some that require only a high school diploma, but the competition for jobs is intense. Experience definitely helps, even if you have that college degree. Volunteer at your local zoo or vet clinic. Help out on the family farm or ranch. Get a summer job involving animals (pet store, zoo, vet clinic, etc.).

Do we have any anything new?

Lee Richardson Zoo participates in cooperative breeding programs with other zoos in AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Our goal is to only produce animals we can house here or know there's a good home for elsewhere. Currently, we have two babies that are each welcome additions to endangered species: a baby Bali mynah in the aviary in Wild Asia and a baby Temminck's tragopan in the bird exhibit by the entrance to Wild Asia. We also have two superb starlings that fledged (came out of the nest and learned how to fly) earlier this year. Visitors can see them, along with their parents, in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary.

For our newest species to the zoo, visitors need to travel to the South American Pampas exhibits and see the maned wolves. The boys are becoming more comfortable with their new surroundings each day. They are most active in the early and late parts of the day. If the wolves are not out and about, visitors can normally see at least one taking a siesta in the shelter of tree boughs near the front of the exhibit.

During your visit to Lee Richardson Zoo, other questions may occur to you. Please ask any of the staff you encounter. We enjoy sharing information about the animals and the zoo.

Visit our award-winning website at www.garden-city.org/zoo.