Bison are returning to the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, and the bears are getting a larger home with its own swimming pool.
“Tonight I’m going to tell you about a great big positive for our zoo,” City Administrator Howard Partington told the Great Bend City Council Monday. The zoo has received two gifts – totaling $230,000 – from the Dorothy M. Morrison Foundation.
Katherine Opie, director of the Foundation, said the first gift, for $130,000, will be used to upgrade the grizzly bear exhibit. It will add 260 feet of fence, a shelter house and a pond with running water. The bears will also get shade structures, a climbing wall and a zip line. In this case the zip line isn’t a ride — it’s a cable on a pulley that anything can be attached to so it can be batted or played with, making the item hard to catch. An example of one can be found now at the zoo’s lion exhibit; it holds a large ball.
The second gift of $100,000 will be used to reintroduce bison to the zoo. The first step will be to restore the exhibit space with new fencing. The gift will also pay for a shelter/hay shed, holding chute and stock tank.
Sidewalks, landscaping and signs will be included in both exhibits.
Partington said Monday’s announcement comes after months of leg work, but city staff have tried to keep it a secret until now.
“I would like to suggest to you that 2015 was a turning point for our zoo,” he said. He reminded the council that Scott Keeler became director of public lands and Sara Hamlin became the zoo’s supervisor and curator.
“Sara Hamlin has the compassion, caring and humility to lead our zoo,” Partington said. “She’s good — and she can lead us into the future.”
Hamlin showed slides of areas to be enhanced and items to be added. Some of her zookeepers attended the meeting so they could hear the big announcement.
She said the present zoo exhibit was “perfect for two bears, but we now have four.” The changes will give the bears more room to play, increasing the size of their yard by at least 50 percent. Currently the bears have a small pond that’s only 3 inches deep and can only hold one bear. She hopes the new pond can hold more bears and be deep enough they can submerge themselves in it. For the older grizzly, Max, there will be an area that is graded and sloped to ease his access in and out of the pool.
With the council’s acceptance of the gifts, Partington said work will get underway as soon as possible. The advance work that the staff has done was to insure the projects meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
“We feel it’s important that this be done right the first time,” he said.
Council members praised the project. Councilman Wayne Henneke, who was active in the zoo’s AZA inspections, said the projects are a step in the right direction. One thing the AZA wanted to see was the development of more modern exhibit areas, replacing the old rectangular exhibits.
Councilwoman Allene Owen said she hopes Monday’s announcement will put an end to rumors that, “our zoo is going down the tube. THIS will definitely change the conversation to a positive.
Editor's note: This story was revised March 22 to correct the name of the Dorothy M. Morrison Foundation.