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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.

Siamang born at Lee Richardson Zoo

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Image: An infant siamang clings onto its mother.

Lee Richardson Zoo is happy to announce that Violet, an endangered siamang, has given birth to her first baby.  The infant was born on May 23rd and is the first for parents, Violet and Zoli.  The new family appears to be doing fine. 


Keepers found Violet holding the baby Tuesday morning during the first morning check.  Staff have been monitoring the family since, paying close attention to maternal behaviors, the baby’s strength and activity, as well as how Dad is fitting in with the new dynamic.


“We’re always cautious with first time moms, but so far Violet is doing really well, and the baby is nursing and holding on strong.  Dad is mostly keeping his distance for now, and is respecting mom and baby,” said Deputy Director Joe Knobbe. “We’re hoping to confirm the gender of the infant in the coming days.”


The birth is the result of a breeding recommendation from the Siamang Species Survival Plan program, which coordinates population management for the species within member institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  Together AZA members and their partners are working to help save siamangs through education, scientific research, fieldwork, public awareness, and conservation action.


Native to Sumatra and Malaysia, siamangs are an endangered lesser ape.  They are highly adapted for life in the trees and well known for their call, which can be heard for miles.  Destruction of the rainforests that they live in is the main cause of their predicament.  You can help siamangs in the wild by purchasing products that use sustainably produced palm oil, which does not contribute to destruction of the rainforests.


The family resides in the Wild Asia area at Lee Richardson Zoo.  The new family currently has access to both their indoor quarters and outdoor habitat.

What is an Ambassador?


Image: Ambassador animal, Maya, the armadillo peaks out of wood shaving bedding.

- Houston Glover Conservation Awareness Coordinator

If you know a child who attends school in Garden City, chances are good that child has come home one day and said something to the effect of “There was somebody from the zoo at school today, and I got to see a live animal right there in my classroom!” If so, congratulate them because they have been in the presence of an ambassador.

            Ambassador Animals, or simply ‘ambassadors,’ are a special group of zoo residents who have a very important role in the Zoo’s conservation-focused mission. They include Maya the three-banded armadillo, Nagini the boa constrictor, Charlie the dove, and a diverse cast of other mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even invertebrates. Much like human ambassadors who help forge relationships with nations around the world, an ambassador animal’s job is to help make connections between humans and other species. They join zoo staff during outreach programs, both on zoo grounds and in the community at large, to help audiences of all ages relate better to the wild animals they represent.

            The reason ambassador animals are so important is that we humans always have an easier time caring about the things we can experience in person. For example, you could look at a picture of a tortoise or read about tortoises, but meeting a tortoise in person will always form a much stronger connection and help you care that much more about tortoises and reptiles. In person, you can experience an animal with all of your senses. You might smell and hear them. You can look them in their eyes and see how they observe you in return. You may, in some cases, even be able to feel the texture of their fur or scales. This creates a lasting memory that you can carry with you for years to come.

In this way, every animal at the zoo is a kind of ambassador. They represent their species to visitors from all over the country and help form connections to wildlife. However, the group of animals we actually refer to as ambassadors are a little different from the rest of the zoo residents. Instead of taking a passive role in education, they are much more actively involved. Keepers and educators work closely with the ambassadors to train them and make sure they are ready to attend programs. Ambassadors have to be comfortable with being handled, placed in carriers, and traveling to schools and retirement homes throughout southwestern Kansas. Plus, they have to be socialized frequently so that they are cofortable people, especially children.

As with any animal interaction, consent is key when working with ambassadors. Staff and volunteers watch closely for signs of stress and may occasionally make the decision to cut an interaction short if the animal becomes overwhelmed. These stress signs vary from one animal to the next, so it takes an intimate knowledge of each individual in order to understand the signals. However, with proper training and good observation skills, zoo staff are able to facilitate interactions that are enjoyable for both the audience and the ambassador.

Because our ambassador animals see so many people at schools and events, when they return to the zoo, they need their privacy so they can rest. That’s why most of them live behind the scenes in the Finnup Center for Conservation Education. However, if you’d like a chance to meet one of the ambassadors up close, you’re invited to attend the weekly ambassador animal keeper chat, every Wednesday at 2 pm at the Zoo’s Nature Play Space.

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