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Catch up with the latest news at LRZ with articles, press releases, and other fun updates

written and created by Zoo Staff.

Join the Zoo Advisory Board

We thought you otter know... there's an opening on the Zoo's Advisory Board!

The Garden City, City Commission continuously recruits citizens to assist in the decision-making process through voluntary service on one of the 16 Advisory Boards or Commissions.

Lee Richardson Zoo Board assists, counsels, and advises the governing body, the City Manager, and the Zoo Director in the areas of the operations, care, maintenance, building, development, and promotion of the Lee Richardson Zoo, including all facilities located therein. Resolution No. 2069 establishes this board.

Please fill out an Advisory Board Application if you are interested in serving on a board.

Applications can be found here:


Image: A North American river otter swims in towards the camera with its mouth open.

The Black-footed Ferret
- Alyssa Mechler, Conservation Awareness Manager

Many of us have heard of the domestic ferret, a common pet throughout the world, but did you know there is an endangered black-footed ferret that ranges throughout North America from Canada to northern Mexico? It is the black-footed ferret. Once thought to be extinct in the 1950s, a small population of black-footed ferrets was rediscovered in 1964 in South Dakota.  However, the small population eventually died out in 1979, and again they were thought to be extinct. In 1981, a ferret was discovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming. The twenty-four individuals from the Meeteetse population were brought into human care to start a breeding program and were the beginning of a successful conservation story.

            The National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center is home to a large population of black-footed ferrets and works towards reintroduction of black-footed ferrets in the wild. Each year, the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center conditions and reintroduces between 150 and 220 black-footed ferrets who are reintroduced into the wild. There are over 33 reintroduction sites in the United States, one of which is located in Logan County, Kansas.

            How did the population of ferrets come so close to extinction? Well, many factors played a role. One common factor is habitat loss. Black-footed ferrets primarily eat prairie dogs, and prairie dogs are often considered pests. Many people try to remove these animals from the land because they are generally on quality grazing land for livestock or growing land for crops. Not only does the ferret rely on the prairie dog for food, but also for their elaborate tunnels. Another common cause for the decline of ferrets, the sylvatic plague (a form of bubonic plague); ferrets and prairie dogs are susceptible to this disease resulting in deaths of both species. Black-footed ferrets, in general, are very susceptible to diseases and viruses; canine distemper results in close to 100% mortality in ferrets.

            There have been a lot of efforts to remove the threat of diseases and viruses that can kill the ferrets and the prairie dogs. A vaccine for black-footed ferrets was developed for the plague and provides life-long immunity to it; all ferrets born in human care receive the vaccine. Dusting prairie dog burrows with a pesticide also helps prevent a plague outbreak. The canine distemper vaccine is administered to black-footed ferrets prior to release into the wild. Many wild ferrets are also vaccinated during routine surveys done by United States Fish and Wildlife Services to monitor the populations.

             Did you know that the Lee Richardson Zoo plays a role in these conservation efforts? Not only is Lee Richardson Zoo home to one male black-footed ferret, which helps educate visitors about his species and is likely to be the only live black-footed ferret some people see but, we also participate in the active conservation of the species periodically by helping spot ferrets while participating in population surveys.

            Black-footed ferrets are a very unique species and worth learning more about. You can learn more about them by visiting or by stopping by the Finnup Center for Conservation Education and seeing our newest resident black-footed ferret. But be aware, he may be snoozing when you visit (they are a nocturnal species).


Image: Black-footed ferret "Flatback" emerges from his den in the Finnup Center for Conservation Education.

Rethinking "Bird Brains"
- Houston Glover, Conservation Awareness Coordinator

English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon first coined the term ‘bird-witted’ to describe one who is “easily distracted and unable to keep his attention as long as he should.” This comparison makes some sense, as many of the most familiar songbirds are flighty by nature and don’t tend to sit still. However, in the four hundred years since Francis Bacon was alive, the idiom evolved to eventually become ‘bird-brained.’ This new insult, popular with cartoon characters like Yosemite Sam, skyrocketed in popularity in the early 20th century to mean ‘just plain stupid.’ Honestly, it’s not a very fair representation of birds, since a lot of them are much smarter than the term ‘bird-brain’ would lead you to believe.

Certainly, birds’ brains themselves are not very big. The common raven for example has a brain no bigger than a walnut. What you have to remember though, is that birds in general are extremely lightweight. As big as ravens are, they only weigh about two pounds. Everything in their body is as light as possible so they can fly. Everything that is, except their brains. Bird brains are densely packed with processing cells called neurons. In fact, some birds have more neurons in their brains than similarly sized primates. That is a ton of processing, problem-solving power.

When it comes to the brainiest of birds, there are two groups that stand head and feathers above the rest: the parrot family and the crow family. The parrots are well-known for their intelligence. Not only can they learn to mimic human voices, but some can even learn to call people or objects by specific names. That ability to make connections and communicate probably stems from the fact that parrots are extremely social birds. In the wild they can group in hundreds or even thousands of individuals. In flocks of that size, the ability to recognize your friends is very important. In addition, a parrot’s natural curiosity pairs with the fine motor skills in its feet and beak to make it very good at solving puzzles or taking things apart.

The crow family, also known as the corvids, is a group of large songbirds that also includes jays, ravens, and magpies. Like parrots, songbirds have a huge capacity for learning, and many groups can learn to mimic other sounds. This mimicry comes from the fact that unlike other birds like doves, ducks, and owls, a songbird’s call does not come ‘pre-installed’ in the chick’s brain. The chick actually has to learn its song from its parents over the course of weeks. That ability to learn requires a complex brain, and the corvids take full advantage. Some crows have even learned to make tools out of sticks. They can use these tools to spear grubs and other prey out of hard-to-reach places.

Big bird brains have a lot of benefits, but they do have a few downsides as well. The complex brains of parrots and corvids can easily experience complex negative mental states like boredom and isolation. In some individuals this can lead to problems like aggression or plucking their own feathers. To make sure that doesn’t happen, pet owners (as well as zookeepers) should make sure to provide lots of enrichment to these brainy birds. These could include new toys, puzzles, or even just a lot of socialization.

If you’re curious about corvids, and what kinds of enrichment the zoo provides its bird-brains, I have some great news! You’ll soon be able to come visit some especially brainy birds, the Red-billed Blue Magpies. These newcomers are native to Southeast Asia and will be found here at the zoo just outside the Wild Asia moon gate. Follow Lee Richardson Zoo on Facebook to be updated when they officially move in.


Image: Two red-billed blue magpies perch in their habitat in Wild Asia.

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