Five years ago, the Great Bend-Brit Spaugh Zoo was at a turning point. Scott Gregory was the new zoo director, charged with improving the facility’s safety and moving toward accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Gregory’s last day was Dec. 30, 2014, as he has accepted a job as director of operations for the Wildlife Center of South Florida. While the city searches for his successor, Zoo Curator Nicole Benz will be handling the duties of both positions. The Great Bend Tribune interviewed Gregory on Dec. 22, when he discussed his accomplishments and talked about what needs to happen next at the zoo.
“I think the biggest accomplishment was getting the zoo safe,” Gregory said. Prior to his arrival, a mountain lion escaped while there were people in the zoo, and was shot to protect the public. A short time later, a snake escaped and was found stretched across 24th St. In the zoo’s more distant history, a teen was once injured while attempting to feed a piece of candy to an animal, and a zookeeper was injured when a cat leapt through an opening during feeding time.
During Gregory’s tenure, rope barriers around zoo exhibits were replaced with wooden security fences.
“We did a lot of behind-the-scenes work that the public never sees,” Gregory said. A double door system was added shortly after he arrived, so animals can’t run out of an exhibit when one door is opened, even if the latch fails. Hooks inside cages were replaced with hand cranks, so that employees no longer have to reach inside the cages to open them.
The level of professionalism was raised, he added. Whenever the zoo acquires a new animal, the staff considers whether it will serve to promote conservation or education, as well as entertainment. For new and existing animals, the staff now looks for ways to enrich their lives, with toys, puzzles or other forms of activity. “Five years ago, the terms ‘conservation’ and ‘enrichment’ weren’t used,” Gregory said.
The position of zoo curator was created shortly after Gregory was hired. The curator is a professional staff member in charge of maintenance of the animals.
With Benz poised to serve as interim director as well as curator, Gregory expressed confidence in her ability. “She does a great job,” he said.
The zoo has yet to secure the coveted AZA accreditation, but continues to work with that organization and embraces its standards of animal maintenance, education and conservation, as well as a goal of providing an entertaining experience. Work will continue on a master plan, which Gregory said is needed with or without accreditation. At this time, the city is seeking architect proposals for the master plan.
Gregory said he’ll continue to offer help to Great Bend from afar. “My heart is in this zoo,” he said.