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Cougar yard expanded at zoo
New yard triples outdoor space for cougars
The cougar yard at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo has been expanded, more than tripling the square footage of the outdoor area for Tommy and Tanner. - photo by photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune
Tommie, one of the two cougars at the zoo, is shown enjoying the catwalk that was added to the exhibit area in 2020.

The cougars at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, Tommie and Tanner, have more room to move about now that their yard has been expanded. Zoo Supervisor/Curator Ashley Burdick said the 1,700 square foot area is more than triple the 512 square feet they’ve had until now.

It took several weeks to finish the project but it was opened to the cougars on Thursday. It took a while for the cats to venture beyond their old boundaries.

“Tanner – who is partially blind – was actually more brave than Tommie,” Burdick said. Both cougars explored the bigger yard on Friday.

The concrete work was done by Mike Sharkey Construction in Otis, the same firm that did the concrete for the new alligator house. The Haz-Mat Response team helped put the ceiling panels on the exhibit with their telehandler. The rest of the work was done by zoo staff and Richard Bodine at the Great Bend Parks Department.

A video tour of the area is posted on the zoo’s Facebook page (, where Burdick writes, “We still need to add landscaping, (additional) public barrier fencing and sidewalk when the weather is a bit nicer.”

There are plenty of large rocks, logs and wooden platforms for the animals to enjoy.

Donations and purchases at the zoo’s gift shop helped pay for the project.

This isn’t the first time the zoo has improved the exhibit. In 2020, a wooden platform 12 feet above the ground was added to allow the cougars to use more of the vertical space. Tommie especially enjoyed being able to spend time up on the catwalk.

Burdick said at the time that she hoped to eventually expand the entire exhibit. 

Raptor rehabilitation

In other news, new outdoor cages for the raptor rehabilitation program at the zoo were delivered Friday. Burdick said the old ones were probably 15-20 years old.

The Great Bend Zoological Society is raising funds for a flight cage, which is a much larger structure that can be used to fully test the flight ability of raptors recovering from injuries. The fundraising goal for this project is $40,000.

Unfortunately, most of the work done to rehabilitate injured birds is never seen by the public. Exposure to humans is limited as much as possible and the birds are not exhibited, per the mandates of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to avoid human “imprinting” on the birds. A federal permit is required to transport and temporarily possess sick, injured, and orphaned migratory birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for rehabilitation purposes.

Santa visit

Santa is coming to the zoo on Saturday, Dec. 17. He will be in the Education Building from 1-3 p.m. The Zoo Society will provide cookies, hot chocolate and candy canes.