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

written and created by Zoo Staff.

The Lee Richardson Zoo will be re-opening June 22nd  with daily summer hours from 8AM to 7PM with the drive through closing at 6PM.    


The Finnup Center for Conservation Education will be open Monday through Friday from 8AM to 5PM.

Guests may notice a few changes during their next visit.  The zoo will have two entry gates open at the archway main entrance to allow separate paths of entry and exit. 

Beginning at the entrance, and throughout the zoo’s pathways, guests will find yellow paw prints on the sidewalk spaced six feet apart as a reminder to practice social distancing from other zoo guests. 

Guests are encouraged to avoid large groups, wear masks, and to wash their hands after using high touch areas such as pop machines, water fountains, playground equipment, and interactive displays. 


Wild Asia, the Kansas Waters boardwalk, as well as the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary will remain temporarily closed. 


Thank you for your support of Lee Richardson Zoo, we look forward to having you back safely. 

Providing Care from a Distance

By Kristi Newland, Zoo Director

“Though apart, we will get through this by pulling together” or similar sayings are heard more and more these days.  We’re finding out how far this needs to go – maintaining our distance, working together and caring for others in new ways - as the current pandemic situation continues its course.  Just as COVID-19 is new to humans, it’s a novel coronavirus for other species too.  While there is a feline coronavirus that’s known to affect wild and domestic felids, the question on COVID-19, which is a different virus, remained until a tiger at Bronx Zoo tested positive (using a test not used for humans).   Lee Richardson Zoo first heard the news through communications from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and American Association of Zoo Veterinarians.  We implemented increased precautions around the felid residents just like other zoos across the country. Zoo staff had been discussing these steps based on possible susceptibility and were about to put them into action as an extra precaution.  The confirmed case came first, however, and was the trigger for actual implementation.  Sharing information is often the way zoos and similar facilities hear about occurrences of diseases, such as avian influenza or West Nile virus, that may affect the zoo residents.  Although we work at different facilities, we pull together by providing each other with needed information and taking appropriate action to reduce the impact on the population.

Lee Richardson Zoo had already implemented precautions among staff (social distancing, increased disinfecting/sanitizing) based on recommendations from the CDC, KDHE, and Finney County Health Department.  The zoo had also implemented precautions (wearing masks when we had to be within 6 ft) for other zoo residents that might be susceptible (primates and ferrets) based on recommendations from our zoo veterinarian and from others within the zoological veterinary community. 

While staff are wearing protective gear within an expanded buffer zone and drastically limiting time in proximity to potentially susceptible animals, we are still providing the care needed to provide quality animal welfare and to maintain the facility.  Zoo staff do not have a magic source of masks but were able to buy a small number of reusable masks (not the N-95 type).  Some staff made their own following online directions for homemade masks.  There are also relatives of staff members and zoo volunteers who did the same, supplying enough homemade masks to ensure all zoo staff were covered.


Although the zoo campus is temporarily closed to guests, staff continue to provide educational content for zoo fans who are at home.  Edzoocation programs, keeper chats, and Zoo Pal segments are some of the programming that is being shared via social media.  Conservation and nature-related crafts and activities are also available on the zoo’s Facebook page and website, helping those at home have something novel, fun, and educational to do.

Let’s not forget the animals at home.  According to a statement by USDA, “Anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction.”

Wildlife Safety Gear

By Catie Hirsh, Education Specialist

As we adjust to the recommended changes to combat the spread of COVID-19, there is a lot of discussion around personal protective equipment (PPE).  Some of you might be familiar with PPE from your job.  At work, tasks might require PPE like a hard hat to safely accomplish your job.  Now, many of us are considering adding PPE, in the form of a cloth face covering, to our daily routine to protect those around us from the potential spread of the corona virus.  While contemplating PPE might seem odd at first, utilization of PPE by animals isn’t uncommon.  If you start looking at wildlife, you’ll find many animals have built-in PPE for survival. 


Dromedary camels have a double row of long eyelashes.  At Lee Richardson Zoo, we have two resident Bactrian camels that have eyelashes that would be the envy of many people.  These beautiful eyelashes are not just for looks; their lashes are PPE.  Dromedary camels live in desert ecosystems of northern Africa where sandstorms can be common.  If sand was to get into the camel's eye, it could cause a cut on the cornea or lead to an infection.  These issues are avoided with the protection provided by the lashes.  Deserts are a challenging place to live, and animals like camels, have PPE to stay healthy under unique conditions.  


Another Lee Richardson Zoo resident with built-in PPE is the bald eagle.  Bald eagles spend their day soaring around looking for small mammals or fish to hunt.  When they find their food, they can dive at speeds of 100 mph to get to their prey!  Could you imagine having wind hit your eyes at 100 mph?  You would probably want some sort of eye protection in that situation.  To keep their eyes safe, eagles have a built-in goggle in the form of a third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane.  This lid sits below the two traditional eyelids that cover the eye.  The biggest difference in this third eyelid is that it is transparent to allow the bird to see while providing a covering for the delicate eye.  To be a top predator, eagles need to move fast, and having PPE, like a nictitating membrane, allows them to quickly and safely reach their prey.  No matter what PPE we are looking at, from a cloth mask to a third eyelid, the purpose of that item is safety.  So, take a tip from wildlife and consider adding appropriate PPE into your routine. 


Plus, don’t forget that while the zoo is closed to the public, you can still enjoy a walk around the outside of the zoo.  The walking trail through Finnup Park that follows the perimeter of the facility will allow you to see some of our animal residents, including the possibility of spotting the Bactrian camels.  So, grab your preferred PPE, get outside, and take a stroll through Finnup Park.            

Above: Bactrian Camels KJ & Mona

Left: Bald Eagle, Kanati

Photos by Education Manager Emily Sexson

We are celebrating a special birthday this week.  Wilbur,

our western hognose snake, is turning 12 years old.

Wilbur is one of our ambassador animals and lives in our

Kansas Habitats in the Finnup Center for Conservation

Education.  Western hognose snakes are found in

Southwest Kansas and are a vital part of the local


Western hognose snakes are squat, heavy-bodied snake

reaching a maximum length of 3 feet (90 cm), but 2 feet

(60 cm) is more typical. Most noticeable on the western

hognose snake is the sharply upturned, pointed snout.

Dark blotches extend down the pale brown or yellowish

back from behind the head to the tail, with two rows of

smaller, alternating blotches on the sides. The belly is

heavily pigmented, with solid black pigmentation

underneath the tail. Western hognose snakes can live up

to 18 years old in human care.

The western hognose snake ranges from south-central

Canada, south to southeast Arizona, New Mexico, and

Texas, southward into Mexico.  This snake prefers

scrubby, flat prairie areas with loose, sandy soil suitable

for burrowing.

The western hognose snake uses its upturned snout to burrow through the earth in search of toads, its principal food. Other items eaten include frogs, lizards, mice, birds, snakes, and reptile eggs. Not dangerous to man, the western hognose snake uses slightly toxic saliva to help subdue its prey. The venom flows down enlarged rear teeth. As many as 39 eggs are laid in the early summer, hatching in as little as 50 days.

The western hognose snake has one of the most elaborate bluff behaviors in the snake world. When threatened, the snake flattens the skin on its neck, giving it a hooded appearance. It then takes a huge breath, inflating its body dramatically, and releases the air with a loud hissing noise. The snake may strike at the intruder, but the mouth usually remains closed. (It is difficult to get a hognose snake to bite in self-defense.) Occasionally, if the snake is not left alone, it will go into convulsion-like motions, turning over on its back, thrashing its head from side to side, and pretending to die. During this death feign, the mouth is open, and the tongue sticks limply out. The snake may even bleed from the mouth or the anal opening and expel feces, although this behavior is most often found in the eastern hognose of the southeastern United States. When the snake is picked up, it is limp. If it is turned belly down, it quickly flips over. After a few minutes, the snake lifts its head and, if it perceives no threat, quickly slithers away.


Happy birthday to Wilbur!

Happy Birthday Wilbur!

By Max Lakes, Deputy Director

Social Distancing According to Animals

By Julianne Werts -  Education Specialist

We have been hearing a lot in the news about social distancing recently. To reduce the spread of COVID-19, it is recommended to stay at least 6 feet away from others and avoid going to public areas with lots of people to help keep everyone safe. This is abnormal behavior for some people. In general, we are a social species. We like to be around others, so this distancing can be difficult for some of us. However, some animals would find this distancing much easier than others!


Take the Amur leopard, for example. They are considered a solitary animal, meaning that most of their life is spent alone. They do not live in large groups. Usually, if leopards are spending time together it is because they are looking for a mate. Or it is a mother with her cubs before they are old enough to survive on their own. Leopards would be excellent at social distancing!


Another species that would do very well during social distancing is the black rhino. Another solitary species, wild rhinos roam  the savannah or dry forests of Africa searching for food and water. They might run into another individual every once in a while, but they do not travel in large herds. Here at the Zoo, we have two black rhinos that live in the same area, but you might notice they do not spend all of their time together. It is common to see them in separate parts of their habitat, allowing them space for their natural solitary behavior.


There are also some animals that would be terrible at social distancing. Alpacas are a great example of this. They live in herds, sharing food, water, and sleeping spaces with many other individuals at once. They rely on larger groups to keep an eye out for predators as they graze. They tend to follow each other very closely, which would make social distancing very difficult!


If you are someone who relates more to the alpaca and is missing being around other people, we are here to help! Check in to the Lee Richardson Zoo’s Facebook page for some videos with the animals that call the Zoo home. If you have school-age children, we will be posting some educational programs that would normally be delivered in their classrooms that you can check out.

We are still open to the public if you would like to visit as well. Pour indoor facilities are closed, but you can still walk around outside and see many of the animals. Just remember: be like a leopard and space yourself out from others, not an alpaca!

Champion Trees

By Emily Sexson - Conservation Education Manager

If you close your eyes and imagine a southwest Kansas landscape, many things may

come to mind that are representative of our shortgrass prairie natural ecosystem. 

Gorgeous sunsets with a flat horizon dotted with windmills and cattle.  Amber

waves of grain blowing in the wind as western meadowlarks sing their lovely song. 

And yet, typically, at least for me anyway, trees are rarely part of the picture. 

Sure, traveling from here to there, you may spot a cluster of old cottonwoods, but

for the most part in southwest Kansas, outside of cities, trees are not the norm. 

When compared to the fields surrounding Garden City, trees are in abundance here

at the Lee Richardson Zoo.  In fact, some may be surprised to discover that the zoo

is home to a few State Champion Trees.  The Kansas Forest Service partners with

American Forests to determine State and National Champion Trees. Nominations

are judged on a point system established by the American Forests National Register

of Big Trees.  Total points are equal to the tree’s circumference in inches, plus height

in feet plus the crown spread in feet divided by four.  Crown spread is a measurement

in feet from the tip of the branch farthest from the opposite side of the tree; then,

the same measurement is made at a right angle to the first.  The two measurements

are averaged.  

Champion Trees are those that grow where their environmental conditions are

favorable, and they can grow larger and taller than the average of their species

regardless of their age.  On the West Lawn of the zoo (where the gazebo and picnic

shelters are located), you can find a southwestern white pine tree that has earned

147 points and became a champion in 2018.  Near the entry of the zoo, guests can

visit a champion Chinese lacebark elm measuring over 62 feet tall and a near 10-foot

circumference.  Look for signs on or near the tree to denote its championship. 

Around 150 State Champion Trees are dotted across Kansas and a few Champion

Trees in the northeastern portion of our state are also listed as National Champions.

Only about 10% of Kansas is forested.  The United States Department of Agriculture

estimates that Kansas has more than five million acres of trees totaling approximately 838,000,000 trees! The Kansas Forest Service recognizes several types of forested ecosystems, including rural forests, windbreaks, and shelterbelts.  However, Champion Trees can show up just about anywhere, including southwest Kansas zoos! 


No matter where they grow, trees have provided our world with shelter, food, medicine, and tools since their existence.  Trees help create oxygen and clean carbon dioxide out of the air; they prevent soil erosion as well as provide habitat resources for wildlife.  From our national forests to our own backyards, trees provide a valuable service to our world.  For more information on champion trees, how to spot, how to nominate, or how to grow your own, visit the zoo or stop by the Kansas Forest Service’s website at www.kansasforests.org

312 E Finnup Drive

Garden City, KS 67846

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