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

written and created by Zoo Staff.

Year of the Rat

By Emily Sexson, Education Manager

Are you a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, or pig? To determine which animal best represents you according to the Chinese lunar year, all you need to know is your birth year.  On January 25th, we’ll transition away from the year of the ox, and into the year of the rat.  Each animal’s year comes around every 12 years. Each Chinese zodiac animal has personality traits assigned to it believed to be embodied in the person who was born during that year.


Rats, as in the small rodents, not the people born under the sign, have earned quite a reputation in human history.  They’re known primarily as pests and have been blamed for filth and disease around the world.  The Black Death, a global epidemic of the bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the 1300s, was one of the most devastating pandemics of human history.  It was believed that it was started by infected fleas transferring from rat to human.  However, more recent studies show that the disease was more than likely transmitted and carried more readily by humans than rats.  So why did rats get the blame? Historians aren’t sure as there really isn’t any evidence to support the claim.


A pest is anything you don’t like.  For many cultures, rats are despised.  However, one man’s pest is another man’s pet.  For example, in Western countries, dogs are considered pets, whereas in others, they are deemed unclean vermin.  Rats were introduced in Western Europe and eventually were sought after for their fur as well as scientific research.  Humans captured and tamed the rats, and over time, began bringing them home as domesticated pets.  Just as dogs are long removed from their wild ancestors, so are today’s pet rats.  


As part of the largest family of mammals on the planet, the rodent family, which makes up more than 40 percent of all mammals, wild and domesticated rats will be around for a long time.  The species can reproduce rapidly.  Reaching sexual maturity in about a month, a single pair of rats can swell to around 1, 250 in just one year’s time.  They’re also opportunistic feeders, snacking on just about anything they can get their hands on.  Rats as pets are known to be intelligent and resourceful.  They are social animals that prefer companionship.  Scientists studying rats have discovered they have excellent cognitive abilities, sometimes able to outperform humans.  They have excellent memories, are easily trained, and love to play.


In ecosystems around the world, wild rats fill a very important role as prey for larger animals.  At the zoo, many of our animals are fed rats as a part of their regular diet.  Like all wild animals, rats should be left alone.  With sharp teeth and nails, as well as speed and agility, rats can defend themselves and cause harm to anyone trying to handle or ingest them.  Therefore, at the zoo; prey animals are not fed out live.  Rats are also excellent pollinators as well as seed dispersers, distributing seeds of a variety of plants, ensuring future vegetation. 


Rats, as in the humans born under the sign, and not the small rodents, are believed to have a quick-witted, resourceful, and smart personality.  They are known for rich imaginations and sharp observations.  In Chinese culture, rats represent diligence and thriftiness.   In love, rats should pair themselves with those born under the sign of the ox, rabbit, or dragon but should avoid a horse or rooster. Financially, rats are believed to do well, but they like saving their money and are thought to be stingy.  Like their wild, animal counterparts, rats will sometimes hoard their most treasured items.


Humans and rats can share personality characteristics as well as biological and behavioral ones.  This is why rats and mice are used so often for medical research.  Most of the symptoms of human conditions can be replicated in rodents because we are genetically similar.  Rats are used for research on a variety of human disorders and diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, hypertension, AIDs, and much more.  

Despite not being everyone’s favorite animal, rats do have great value in our world and the ecosystems we share.  We do not currently have rat animal ambassadors at Lee Richardson Zoo still, we do have some of their rodent relatives including a larger species of rodent for you to visit throughout the year of the rat, Cavy or Patagonian Mara, as well as a small native species, the kangaroo rat.  For more information, reach out to us at 620-276-1250 or zoo.education@gardencityks.us.  

 Left; Ord's Kangaroo Rat, Center; Domestic Rat, Right; Patagonian Cavy - Photos by Education Manager, Emily Sexson

Join the Zoo Crew

By Julianne Werts, Education Specialist

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I’m not talking about the holidays, though they are pretty great. I’m talking about the time of year when you can become a Lee Richardson Zoo Volunteer!


We will be hosting our annual training for all volunteers and docents this January, and welcoming in new faces who are interested in getting involved! There are a ton of opportunities available for anyone who is interested; whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, an artist, athlete, teacher, or office worker, there is a place for you at the Zoo!


We currently have around 30 volunteers and docents who are a part of the team. These men and women serve as an integral part of meeting the Zoo’s mission of connecting people with wildlife through conservation, education, and engaging experiences.


There are two “levels” of volunteering at the Lee Richardson Zoo. The first is, simply, a Volunteer. Opportunities for volunteers include helping with large events, maintaining our collection of biofacts and books in the library, encounters, camps, and more! Many of these roles tend to be more behind the scenes, such as offering help to our team in the office and so forth. This level has an hour requirement of 20 hours of service each year. This is the first step to becoming our second level, a Docent!


Docents have more opportunities available, and therefore hold more responsibility. These are the volunteers who join us on ZooMobile programs in local schools and help with or lead education programs here at the Zoo. They can work to become animal handlers for our Ambassador Animals as well. These are opportunities that tend to have more interaction with other Zoo guests. Docents have a higher requirement than Volunteers, needing 45 hours a year. If you’re someone who loves talking with people and wants to share your love of wildlife, this is a great way to do so!

There are many perks to volunteering with the Zoo, besides getting to be around many cool critters! Each year there is a Volunteer Day Trip to another facility, open to all Volunteers and Docents. There is also a separate Docent Overnight Trip to other facilities as well. And of course, being part of the Zoo means you have access to some exciting Zoo news before anyone else.


If you are interested in becoming a part of our Volunteer Team, our first day of training is this Saturday, January 11th, 9am-1pm. If you want more information before coming to this meeting, you can email zoo.education@gardencityks.us, stop by, or call the Finnup Center for Conservation Education at 620-276-1250.

Ringing in a Decade with a New Year at Lee Richardson Zoo

By Max Lakes, Deputy Director

Each New Year’s Eve is unique, and this New Year’s Eve was even more unique as it is the beginning of a new decade, too.  The 2020s are upon us, and we want to have the best decade ever by having a stellar 2020.  Many take the start of a new year to look back and see what they did well and what they would like to do better in the future.  Resolutions are often the result.  Here at Lee Richardson Zoo, we also look back on accomplishments and forward to improvements.  Instead of calling them resolutions, we call them goals, and we have lots of goals for the upcoming year and decade.

Looking back at the previous year and decade, we are very proud of the accomplishments we have had and are inspired and energized by the goals (resolutions) we have for the future.  One of our biggest resolutions is to continue to be a phenomenal zoo for Garden City and all of southwest Kansas.  One of the ways we will continue to provide our community with a great zoo is to continue our history of improving the zoo experience for guests.


2020 will see the continuation and completion of the primate and flamingo habitats construction and the new animal health facility that began in 2019.  Both lemurs and flamingos will have an amazing new home, and Lee Richarson Zoo guests will be able to view them in habitats that provide modern living situations for each species.  The new animal hospital will allow for continued top-quality animal care in updated settings.  All of these additions and improvements will make Lee Richardson Zoo even better for our guests, the animals that call LRZ home, and LRZ staff.


While construction is underway creating exciting changes in 2020, discussions are underway for how we will progress through the next decade.  We are always looking to improve the zoo for everyone involved, guests, staff, and animals alike. 


What we can’t improve upon is the fantastic guests that come through our gates throughout the year, and the wonderful support of the community.  So, when you are wondering what to do with that extra time you have on your hands: next week, in the coming year, or the coming decade, use some of it to visit the Lee Richardson Zoo.  See the improvements we are making to continue to provide an amazing experience for Garden City and all of southwest Kansas.          

Photos by Education Manager, Emily Sexson

Snow Leopards

Lee Richardson Zoo is happy to announce the return of snows to the zoo. It’s not precipitation we’re celebrating, but the arrival of two snow leopards.


Bodhi and Omid, one and a half- year-old brothers, came from Cleveland Metroparks Zoo on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan. The SSP works to collectively manage the snow leopard population in AZA member institutions in a manner that maximizes genetic diversity, encourages sustainability of the population, and enhances the conservation status of the species in the wild.  While snow leopards are usually solitary in the wild these brothers will stay together for the foreseeable future according to the plan. 


Snow leopards were reclassified as Vulnerable instead of Endangered in 2017, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.  The change doesn’t mean they’re safe.  It’s the difference between being at a very high risk of extinction to now being at high risk of extinction. They live in the highest elevations of the Himalaya Mountains in Asia and are at risk due to poaching and habitat loss.  Their cryptically colored coat provides excellent camouflage in rocky outcroppings, and their adaptations and athletic abilities for surviving in their rugged habitat are astounding.  

For More Information, Contact:

Kristi Newland (kristi.newland@gardencityks.us) or Max Lakes (max.lakes@gardencityks.us) at 276-1250


Top Image: Bodhi

Right Image: Omid

Photos by Education Manager Emily Sexson

Seasonal Changes

By Dera Naidoo, Education Aide

Frosty trees and shrubs, daylight savings time, long nights, early sunsets, cold, crisp air. ‘Tis winter we are

headed for, the coldest season of the year. It can bring with it plummeting temperatures and subzero conditions.

To avoid these harsh chilly environments, some animals migrate, whilst others stay and ‘rough’ it out. Those

that do decide to stay must change some of their behaviors and habits to adapt to these environmental stressors.


Many animals enter a period of dormancy to safeguard against seasonal adversities. Dormancy happens before

or when the adverse conditions have already begun. It is a temporary state of quiet inaction in which the animal

can save its energy. Animals have cues for entering dormancy and different classes of animals favor different

types of dormancy. Those in zoos live in more controlled environments and may or may not enter dormancy, however, they still have cues that make them behave a certain way during seasonal changes. The different types of dormancy include: hibernation, torpor, aestivation and brumation. All bears hibernate, right? Nope; a true hibernator is believed to weigh an average of 2.5 ounces.

Bears go into a deep sleep during the winter months called torpor. In torpor, the animal can wake up quickly and easily. Hibernation is when animals “sleep” through the winter. Whilst sleeping these animals will not wake up whether touched or moved even if there is a noisy racket going on. Hibernation is a prolonged period of torpor; body temperatures drop way below that of an animal in torpor, and with minimal energy expenditure.


The hedgehog is known to hibernate in cold or very hot temperatures. The summer version of hibernation is aestivation. The sweltering heat causes the hedgehog to go into hiding, using as little energy as possible. In aestivation the animals neither sleep very deeply nor remain dormant for very long. We have Fiona our African four-toed hedgehog, who remains active all year round as she lives in her habitat with comfortable temperatures of 75-85 degrees. At Lee Richardson Zoo we also have Namba, our resident sloth bear, who does not go into torpor since he comes from the warmer lowland forests of India.

Reptiles are ectothermic; they depend on an external source of heat. Fortunately, their internal cues, together with signs from their surrounding (such as drops in temperature, humidity and light), act as signals to go dormant. The ornate box turtle begins to fast and empty out his/her digestive system when they receive the signals that winter is coming. The goal is to expend the least energy in the cold icy temperatures when not consuming any food. They find a thermally appropriate hiding spot or hibernacula and reduce their metabolic rate significantly. This survival plan is called brumation. Smalls and Buck, the zoo’s two ornate box turtles who go on special educational trips, have areas to snuggle up and stay warm, together with their favorite dietary treats available all year round! For this reason, they don’t experience brumation.

Animals’ intensified food collections, building of fat stores, heavier coat growths, feather fluffing, change to white winter wear, dormancy, and other behaviors occur in response to seasonal changes. Winter can be bitterly cold, dreary, and intense for many wildlife. But through their biological makeup and cues from Mother Nature, the flora and fauna of the wild remains relentless, albeit in its sedentary mode, in surviving the wintry months.


Photos by Education Manager Emily Sexson


312 E Finnup Drive

Garden City, KS 67846

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