Lee Richardson Zoo has plenty of news lately

If I say "it's all happening at the zoo," I'll bet you get a little Simon and Garfunkel jingle running through your mind. It seems to me that Paul and Art knew what they were talking about when they wrote that song. There are a tremendous amount of things happening at the zoo, and sometimes I wonder just how we keep on track and still keep our heads above water! So what's new at the zoo?

This past Monday wrapped up several months of planning to host Blues at the Zoo 3 with the legendary blues band The Nighthawks rocking a great crowd on the zoo's west green. Despite record high temperatures that day, the west green held true to its reputation and provided a comfortable and shady venue for the event, and concert-goers were not disappointed. Warm perhaps, but glad that they ventured out for a fun evening of unique entertainment.

Next Saturday, June 22, Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo is hosting their first ever Global Bazaar from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. This event will also take place on the west end of the zoo, with a selection of food and cultural arts and craft booths set up around the triangle near the playground. One notable booth will feature merchandise from "Ten Thousand Villages," an organization that supports vital fair income to Third World countries and artisans by marketing their handicrafts and sharing their stories with consumers in North America. Admission is free to zoo patrons and booth space is still available to vendors. For more information, contact Brian at the Friends office.

New babies are always a welcome and popular attraction at the zoo, and this year we have several notable births that our keeper staff has been working toward as a part of our captive breeding efforts. No doubt you have heard about most of these babies already, but if not, you'll want to come visit before these kids get any bigger. Our first arrivals were three otter pups born in February. Linus, L.J. and sister Summer are swimming up a storm now, but don't look for itty-bitty babies as these three are growing like weeds and are now almost the size of Mom. She does occasionally still try to show them who's boss by trying to carry them around by the scruff of their neck, but she doesn't usually get very far. Our second birth was that of an addax, who is also growing fast but is still noticeably smaller than the rest of the family. This beautiful antelope species is on display in the west yard of the African Plains exhibit, just south of the aviary.

Our three swan cygnets are still small, gray and fluffy looking, but they are all doing well under the very watchful eye and protective beaks of their parents. Look for them on the main duck pond near the zoo exit at Fifth Street. And last but not least, another Goeldi's monkey was born to our parents, Sucre and Domingo, on May 31, and can be seen riding around on Mom's back inside the rainforest display in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary. This makes three babies on display with Mom and Dad, so there is never a dull moment in that exhibit these days. And while we're on the subject of the aviary, have you checked out the flight cage yet? The birds returned from their winter vacations off exhibit and our new bar-headed geese are a noisy and entertaining addition to the collection. The hamerkops are rebuilding their gigantic nest, and many of our paired birds are acting "nesty." The flight cage itself has enjoyed some upgrades since we completed replacing the mesh last summer, including a new concrete sidewalk and additional plants.

Our newly remodeled panda exhibit in Wild Asia will soon be ready, as it is just awaiting a few finishing touches by the keepers before we let the new panda pair out, but you can still catch a glimpse of Firecracker, our panda octogenarian in the original panda exhibit. Actually he's not quite 80, but will celebrate his 22nd birthday on July 3, and that's pretty darned old for a red panda, as they usually live about 14 years in captivity and eight to 10 in the wild. The previous record was 19 years and four months. And if you do come to see the pandas, remember that they prefer cold climates so are most likely to be outside during the cool of the morning, and resting inside in their air-conditioned dens during the heat of the day. Much like we humans!

The Safari Shoppe has lots of fun things to eat and shop for, and most popular on their list are the Safari Cycles that you have likely seen being pedaled around the zoo. Their popularity with guests has been phenomenal, and the shoppe just took delivery of two more cycles, one of which has a triple seat (current models have either a single or double bench design). Staff is currently assembling the new bikes, and they should be available for rent soon. Also watch for some new wagons to rent in the near future.

In the "cat"-egory of new exhibits, Cat Canyon is plugging along, and now that the contractor has completed their portion of the project, our staff is completing the final components like paths, public fencing, landscaping, irrigation, signage and more. We are still targeting an August grand opening, and will let you know when a date is set so you can come celebrate this wonderful new exhibit with us.

Fourth of July will be on us before you can say "Happy Independence Day," and once again, barring unforeseen weather circumstances, the Municipal Band will be playing on the zoo's west green just prior to the community fireworks display. Join us for a late night at the zoo to have a great venue for the fireworks.

And while there are a lot more projects in the works here at the zoo, I'll save them for another day when they are farther along and closer to reality. Just remember our cool shady paths, beautiful grounds and amazing animals are here every day from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. for your enjoyment, whether for a fun family outing or a solitary retreat. See you soon!

Visit our web site at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.