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ZOO to YOU

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

written and created by Zoo Staff.

June's Pic of the Month

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The Staff Pic of the Month is selected by the Zoo Advisory Board.

June's winning submission was entered by Houston G. - Conservation Awareness Coordinator,  with a picture of an East African crowned crane.

Congratulations Houston!

Enjoy Parks in the Summer
- Alyssa Mechler, Conservation Awareness Manager

This month is Parks and Recreation Month! Did you know the Lee Richardson Zoo is a part of the Parks and Recreation Department in the City of Garden City? This department also includes many of the playgrounds and parks throughout town, the skate park, cemeteries, Buffalo Dunes Golf Course, Garden Rapids of The Big Pool, and more. We know that July can be a very warm month, so we wanted to share some ways to enjoy these wonderful parks safely this summer!

Hydration is key. Just like all of the animals at the zoo, we, too, need water and lots of it when we’re active in the summer. Make sure that whenever you go for a walk, visit the zoo, or any other park, you pack your full reusable water bottle. Of course, it’s important to enjoy a cool treat occasionally, so maybe stop by the concession stand at Garden Rapids or the Safari Shoppe.

The Animal Care team ensures the animals have plenty of ways to keep cool in the summer. While we aren’t able to walk the animals over to Garden Rapids to enjoy the pool and slides, we provide them with other ways of keeping cool and having fun. These can include special sprinklers that give off a cool mist (sometimes, it’s nice if there is a little wind for the humans to catch some of the mist). Keepers will make cold treats for the animals as well. For the lions, it might be ice pops made with blood or chicken baby food in them. For the bison, it might be a refrigerated melon! Some animals have a pool in their habitat, like the jaguars and cougars. You can often catch the jaguars enjoying a nice swim.

            While you won’t catch the animals out golfing at Buffalo Dunes, you might spot some native wildlife at the course if you look closely! Sometimes, keepers give heavy-duty or industrial strength toys to various animals to bat around their habitats. Make sure to pack a hat and sunscreen when you head out to golf this summer, not only to protect your eyes but also your skin! That’s important for the animals too. We have lots of shade options outside and cool barns for the animals to enter if needed. Some animals, like rhinos, prefer keeping their skin protected by covering themselves in mud. This acts like a built-in sunscreen and helps protect them from pesky biting bugs! Speaking of bugs, many animals, like horses and giraffes, will use their beautiful tails and unique skin to help prevent bug bites. You may notice the animals’ skin twitching from time to time, and that’s just them shooing bugs off. We, as humans, probably should remember our bug spray since we don’t have tails for built-in fly swatters.

            The parks of Garden City can be fun any time of the year, but this month especially, we encourage everyone to get out and enjoy. Where would we be without these wonderful parks? You can visit the Lee Richardson Zoo every day from 8 AM to 7 PM. Make sure to visit leerichardsonzoo.org and www.gcrec.com for information on all the fun activities this summer!

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Image: Black rhino "Ayubu" heads to wallow in the mud.

Pure Pink Bliss
- Andrea Flores, Education Aide

With their pink and crimson plumage, long legs and necks, and strongly hooked bills, flamingos cannot be mistaken for any other type of bird. These birds have certainly caught our attention! Especially during the summer, we may find them on our clothing or even as an ornament on our front lawn. However, our favorite place to see flamingos is right here at the Lee Richardson Zoo! While we love seeing these pink-feathered friends every day at the Zoo, Kansas is a bit further north than where we find their wild counterparts. Chilean flamingos are native to the warm tropical areas of South America, like Argentina, Bolivia, and, of course, Chile. They spend a lot of their time wading into shallow waters looking for food, just like our resident flock does here!

     These showstoppers aren’t born pink, though. Baby flamingos are white-gray and fuzzy. They eventually grow up to develop their distinctive look. Flamingos get their fabulous pink or reddish color from the rich sources of carotenoid pigments (like the pigments of carrots) in the algae and shrimp the birds eat. Their feathers turn pink over time. Not only their feathers but their tissue, skin, blood, and even egg yolk can turn pink. They really are what they eat!

      It may surprise you to know that a flamingo can only eat when its head is upside down. They will lower their necks and tilt their heads slightly upside-down, facing backward in the water.                   They use their tongue as a sieve to catch food. They force the water through their comb-like extensions on their beaks, using their tongues to push the water out and keep the tasty food in. We are certainly grateful for their role in eating the smallest organisms. By doing so, flamingos not only keep watering holes productive, but they also help circulate the water by turning over the mud and silt on the bottom of rivers, streams, and ponds.

         Flamingos are not only well known for their color but also their dancing skills! There are 136 combinations of dance moves a flamingo can perform. Some of these moves are complex, and it may take them many years to learn the more complicated ones. We can certainly admire the focus and determination these flamingos have to perform the perfect dance.

       We love all the characteristics our flamingos have here at the Lee Richardson Zoo. As you can imagine, it gets much colder during winter here in Kansas than it does around the tropics. In the wild, some Chilean flamingos will migrate in order to escape the cold weather. Thankfully for our flock, they don’t have to travel quite so far to stay warm here at the Zoo. Their indoor area will keep them nice and cozy through winter months, mimicking those warmer climates. So, the next time you visit the zoo, think pink! Make sure to stop on by and see the flamingos. The Lee Richardson Zoo is open from 8am – 7pm every day this summer. 

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Image: A Chilean flamingo uses its beak to preen its bright pink feathers.

Barred Tiger Salamander
- Alice Nelson, Education Specialist

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Image: "Carmen" a barred tiger salamander sits on a rock in her habitat located inside the Finnup Center for Conservation Education.

The Kansas state amphibian, the western barred tiger salamander, may conjure a familiar image in our minds. But how much do we really know about these wonderfully colorful amphibians?

                Most adult barred tiger salamanders range from three inches to six and a half inches. This impressive size makes them one of the largest species of salamanders in North America. While known to live in Kansas, these widespread amphibians can live anywhere from lower western Canada through the western United States to the northern portion of Mexico. Throughout this range, there are some differences in the tiger salamanders, including color. In Kansas, the barred tiger salamanders are a muddy brown or black color with bright yellow bars across their bodies. This bright pattern is believed to be a form of mimicry, where one animal tries to look similar to another, more dangerous, animal. In this case, many toxic amphibians have bright coloration in yellows, oranges, and reds, so the bright yellow may make predators believe the barred tiger salamander is toxic, too.

                Speaking of predators, the barred tiger salamander is a formidable predator in its own right. Barred tiger salamanders have broad heads and little eyes that sit on the top of their head. This allows them to sit mostly buried in the soil with eyes still visible, making it easy to ambush their prey. Their prey is anything that can fit in their mouth. They mostly eat insects, worms, and slugs. However, if the conditions are too extreme and competition for food is very high, there are barred tiger salamanders who will eat other barred tiger salamanders. Here at the zoo, our ambassador barred tiger salamander, Carmen, is fed crickets and the occasional small mouse.

                Water is super important to animals like Carmen. Being an amphibian means you must keep your skin moist in order to survive. Barred tiger salamanders also lay their eggs and grow to their adult size in bodies of water. As the larval form of the barred tiger salamander grows, it starts to lose its long fin and lose its gill frills and gill slits. Once a full-grown adult, they can move to dry land and simply bury themselves to keep moist. So, how can we make sure there is enough water here for the barred tiger salamander? One way is by protecting playas, natural low spots that fill with water seasonally.  Learn more about playas at www.playasworkforKansas.com. Another way is by reducing the amount of water you are using at home. Watering your lawn less frequently, taking shorter showers, and turning off the sink while brushing your teeth all make noticeable differences to the water table under our feet. Most faucets for sinks flow at a gallon and a half every minute, so not turning off the water while brushing your teeth wastes at least three gallons of water! To learn more about saving water, feel free to visit the animal hall in the Finnup Center for Conservation Education. This is the same building as the zoo office. As you wander through the halls of information, take a moment to stop and try to find our ambassador western barred tiger salamander, Carmen, who also lives in the hallway. Carmen will have her seventh birthday on June 15th; her striking colors and winning personality are likely to brighten your day!

A Truly Wild Horse
- Kristi Newland, Zoo Director

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Image: "Nina" an Asian wild horse, grazes in her habitat.

If you’re looking for a truly wild horse, it’s the Asian Wild Horse.  When it comes to horses, while there are many different breeds, such as Arabians, Shetlands, Belgians, and more, as well as feral domestic horses or mustangs, Asian wild horses are distant cousins of domestic horses and are evolutionarily distinct.  Along with the other cousins, the zebra and the wild asses, all are in the family Equidae.  Once extinct in the wild, Asian wild horses are currently classified as endangered and are considered the last truly wild horse in the world.  Lee Richardson Zoo is proud to participate in the management of Asian wild horses in human care and is happy to share that a new filly, Nina, joined our group recently.

All Asian wild horses alive today descended from 14 horses that were in human care when the species was driven to extinction in the wild due to poaching and competition for space with livestock and humans in the 1960s.  Thanks to the management of Asian wild horses in human care over the past several decades, the species has been reintroduced into the wild in Mongolia, China, and beyond.

DNA suggests that the Asian Wild horse, rather than being an ancestor of the domestic horse, diverged from a common ancestor 500,000 years ago.  Asian wild horses have two more chromosomes than domestic horses.  They also shed their mane and tail once a year, unlike domestics.  Other differences when compared to their domestic cousins include that they are stocky, short, and pot-bellied, have a dark dorsal stripe that runs from the mane to the tail, and are missing the lock of hair on the forehead.  They have a spiky mane like a zebra and have stripes on their legs (behind their knees) like the Somali wild ass.

Asian wild horses, also called Przewalski’s (pronounced sheh-Val-skee’s) horses, often live in groups called harems that consist of several mares and a single stallion or in bachelor groups.  In their native Mongolia, they live on the steppe (grassland), where the temperatures can range from 104 degrees Fahrenheit to 50 below zero.  In the winter, they grow thick, warm coats, including beards and neck hair.  During storms, they can be seen turning their back to the wind and tucking their tail tightly between their back legs.  In the wild, they graze on grass and leaves from shrubby trees.  As hindgut fermenters, like zebras and donkeys, they need to consume large amounts of water and food that is low in nutritional value.

Asian wild horses can be found in the northwest section of Lee Richardson Zoo.   To learn more about them, you can visit the Zoo or the Zoo’s website.  You can also visit Truewildhorse.org to learn more about conservation efforts on their behalf.  To learn more about what’s happening at the Zoo, visit www.leerichardsonzoo.org or the Zoo’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube platforms.  The Zoo is currently open daily 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. with drive through access open until 6:00 p.m.

Laughing Kookaburras 
- Houston Glover, Conservation Awareness Coordinator

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Image: "Cash" the kookaburra perches on a tree limb in the aviary.

The zoo in late spring is a bustling, lively place, alive with sounds. As the last few school field trips make their way down the winding paths, they’ll hear all sorts of exotic animal calls echoing across the zoo. The siamang family’s whooping chorus, the trumpet of the sarus cranes, and the territorial shrieking of the red-ruffed lemurs are all part of this unique zoo soundtrack. Of all the voices in the animal choir, though, the most famous might be the cackling call of the laughing kookaburra.

For many, the sound of this iconic bird instantly brings to mind a jungle setting full of twisting vines and dense ferns. But kookaburras aren’t native to rainforests at all. In the wild, they’re most often found in dry woodlands throughout Australia. The reason people tend to associate their sound with jungles is because it has long been used as a stock sound effect in Hollywood movies. Anytime a movie scene features an explorer cutting their way through the African or South American rainforest, they tend to throw in this Australian bird call to set the scene.

In real life, kookaburras are so much more than just a sound effect. For one thing, they are highly social birds, often living in extended family groups consisting of a mated pair and their adult offspring, who sometimes stick around to help raise their younger siblings. The iconic laugh is a territorial call that the families make together to establish their home. Kookaburras are also very intelligent and bold birds, which has allowed them to survive and thrive in many Australian cities among people.

A member of the kingfisher family, Kookaburras are extremely successful hunters. They prefer to hunt using a sit-and-wait method, perching in a tree until they see a small animal come along and then diving down to snatch it in their bill. When it comes to prey, these birds are not picky and will eat anything they can catch. Mice, fish, lizards, snakes, frogs, and even other birds are all fair game. Once they’ve caught their meal, they carry it back to their perch and bash it repeatedly on a branch to kill it before swallowing it whole. This unusual behavior is common in kingfishers and also helps to soften the prey to make it easier to eat.

As small carnivores, kookaburras play a vital role in the ecosystem by working to control the mouse and snake populations. Here in Kansas, that role is filled by some of our own small predatory birds, like kites, kestrels, and roadrunners. These birds are cool to watch while they’re hunting, but it’s best to keep your distance. You may not realize it, but if you get too close to them, you’re probably scaring away all the delicious snakes!

Here at the zoo, you can visit some of our favorite small, feathered carnivores in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary, now that all summer residents have been moved back in for the season. 27-year-old “Cash” the kookaburra is one of the zoo’s oldest residents, but he’s still going strong. He can often be heard vocalizing with his mate “Goose,” especially in the mornings and late afternoons. The two are joined in the aviary flight by a whole community of birds from all over the world, and I encourage you to try and spot them all!

For more information on the animals of the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary, visit our website’s aviary page at www.leerichardsonzoo.org/aviary. Or, to see information on all of the birds of Lee Richardson Zoo, visit www.leerichardsonzoo.org/birds.

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