Our zoo has many amazing animals. We all love our giraffes, black rhinos, red pandas, gibbons, and all of our large mammals — what we in the zoo world call charismatic mega-fauna.

But we also have a whole group of animals here at the zoo that most people do not see but provide a link with nature for many people by being hardworking ambassador animals — the animals that go out and visit the public.

Our collection of ambassador animals, ranging from Madagascar hissing cockroaches to a barn owl and furry chinchillas, go out into the public and teach the community, especially the students in Garden City Schools, about Lee Richardson Zoo. These amazing animals also help connect people with nature and animals by allowing interactions that are not possible with many zoo animals.

Close-up animal encounters are valuable learning opportunities. These experiences take both children and adults beyond the traditional zoo visit, allowing them to observe and interact with the animals directly. Visitors also get the chance to interact one-on-one with the knowledgeable, dedicated, professional staff who manage the animals’ care.

When guests make first-hand discoveries about animal behavior, they build their knowledge in a way that goes beyond what they could read in a book or watch on TV.

Education can be maximized if there is an affective connection between learner and object. Learning how a snake feels happens by touching a snake. Touching a snake in a supervised situation also allows people to learn the importance of snakes in the ecosystem while they are making that emotional connection.

However, what is truly special about these experiences are the emotional connections formed during these encounters. The unique experience of an animal’s touch and smell and getting the opportunity to look them directly in the eye moves you to care more deeply about protecting these animals and their habitats.

Research has shown that engagement with living habitats, like animal encounters and touch tank experiences, can help encourage conservation awareness and caring for animals. Animal encounter experiences at Lee Richardson Zoo are not only teaching visitors about animals but building connections with and respect for wildlife and wild places.

If you, or your child, went to school in Garden City in the past 20 years, then you have met some of the zoo’s amazing ambassador animals. Lee Richardson Zoo provides over 1,200 programs per year through ZooMobiles and private functions.

Lee Richardson Zoo is proud of our ambassador animals and the role they play in connecting people with wildlife. The next time you visit Lee Richardson Zoo, stroll over to the Finnup Center for Conservation Education and meet some of our ambassador animals. While most live in habitats not viewable to the public, some of them live in habitats in our education hallway and are viewable to all.


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