Love is in the air, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Everyone is thinking about what to get the special someone in their life. Not to show them they can buy them something, but to show them they know and understand them and to express their love and caring. We want the people in our lives to know we have their best interests at heart, so we remind them of that by doing something special for them.

It is no different here at Lee Richardson Zoo. We want to express the care we have for our animals every chance we get. We strive to know our species’ natural history so what we do for them is appropriate for their species’ physical and mental health. We provide species-specific enrichment to fit each species but also to fit specific individuals. Just like the partners we have in life, specific individuals of each of our species have different likes and dislikes when it comes to the enrichment we give. One of our giraffes may prefer grapes while another may prefer bananas as a reward.

We look to show all our animals just how much we care by providing them with items that encourage them to think and interact with their surroundings; we call it enrichment. Our maintenance division recently constructed a movable tree for our large boa constrictors that participate in our animal programs. The tree is approximately 7 feet tall; it needs to be this big as our two biggest snakes are 7 1/2 and 10 feet long, and 3 feet in circumference.

Boa constrictors will spend time in trees, especially when they are younger, and our new enrichment tree allows the big snakes to exercise and have time outside of their habitat in a way that is more natural for their species. Both Big Mama and Nagini, our two boa constrictors, are enjoying the time they get to spend exploring in the tree.

Building enrichment for our giraffes takes special attention and care, as well. We have three giraffes ranging in height from about 9 feet tall to over 16 feet tall. Every individual needs something at a height they can reach but still challenge them. Our keepers are fantastic at creating enrichment that requires the giraffes to use their necks and tongues as they would in the wild to provide exercise and enrichment.

We must be thoughtful and caring when it comes to our rhino enrichment, too. Rhinos are large — very large — and very strong. An object that takes several full-grown adults to lift is easily tossed around by just one of our rhinos. We have to be creative in making enrichment for Johari and Jabari, our female and male rhinos, that is heavy and sturdy enough to provide physical exercise for them, and that is more than just a large weight laying in the middle of their habitat. Large heavy tires with their favorite foods hidden inside work well.

Here at Lee Richardson Zoo, we work to provide the best enrichment for each of our species. If you are still looking for that special something for your special someone, we can help with that, too. The Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo is offering different Valentine’s offerings to the community. If you would like to see different ways you can show that special someone in your life that you care, while also helping out the zoo, please visit or call (620) 276-6243.


Max Lakes is the curator of education at Lee Richardson Zoo.