There’s an old joke that asks “Where does a five-hundred-pound gorilla sleep?” The punchline is “Anywhere he wants to.”

To a large extent, that’s true of a lot of things with animals, including ones that live in a zoo. Much of the daily operation is based on cooperation between individuals whether it involves a 500-pound gorilla and its keeper, or any number of other partnerships displayed throughout the day.

Lee Richardson Zoo contracts with Garden City Veterinary Clinic to make sure the veterinary needs of the animals at the zoo are met. Dr. Tuller makes regular scheduled rounds, consults as needed (often daily, even multiple times a day), and also has to be able to work in more time-consuming unscheduled needs of the zoo residents.

Dillons provides food items for the animals to eat, and we gladly accept the donations on behalf of the animals. How do you weigh a full-grown rhino? (No, this isn’t another old joke.) The keepers regularly work with the rhinos to train them to stand calmly on the scale (another cooperative effort), so we can track their weight as part of their health care program.

Hamerkops (a bird species in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary) are well-known for the enormous nests they build. When we had just one hamerkop, there wasn’t much building going on. When we have a male/female pair of hamerkops, keepers can hardly keep enough nest building supplies in the area. Males generally do most of the gathering of nesting materials and females place it just so after the males bring it to the construction site.

A collaborative effort is also behind the educational programs offered at Lee Richardson Zoo. The members of the Education Division and the docents combine their knowledge and talents to create interesting sessions for all ages. Many of the programs involve a cooperating member of the animal kingdom, one of our Ambassador Animals, who is cared for day in and day out by a member of the Animal Care Division.

Our Sarus cranes were recently tending eggs in their yard. Each parent takes its turn incubating the eggs. When keepers go in to tend the crane yard, the parents diligently make sure the staff stay a respectful distance from the nest. Being a protective parent is often key to success. In this case, the eggs weren’t fertile but may be next time.

Diligence and cooperation is also the key to the upkeep of the zoo. The Maintenance Division is always busy maintaining the grounds and fixing whatever may need fixing in a 7 day a week operation that supports the zoo residents around the clock.

Between the various divisions at the zoo, there are always numerous projects underway. Many of them take a bit of teamwork, including the cooperation of the animals (i.e. the lions must cooperate and go inside for their yard to be mowed or for planks to be added to their platform).

How does a scarlet ibis get from Washington, D.C. to Garden City, Kansas? It flies in on an airplane after staff at the respective zoos (keepers, veterinarians, managers and registrars) have had numerous discussions (including ones with the coordinator of the AZA Scarlet Ibis Species Survival Plan and with the airlines), filled out and sent several forms back and forth and completed pre-shipment health tests. Each person and animal involved plays a role in the outcome.

Improvements at the zoo come about in a similar manner. The efforts of the zoo staff, City of Garden City, Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo, and the numerous zoo visitors and supporters come together, creatively blending the efforts of all for the betterment of the zoo.

In all these cases, if any of the parties don’t fulfill their role it makes it harder for the others to reach the goal whether it is bringing a new species to the zoo, weighing a rhino, or making improvements at the zoo. Lee Richardson Zoo is what it is due to the sum of all the efforts of all contributors (staff, donors, volunteers, etc.). Thank you for all you do.


Kristi Newland is the director at Lee Richardson Zoo.