Great Bend City Council members chuckled Tuesday evening when Karen Neuforth from the Great Bend Zoological Society invited them to “a unique feeding opportunity with the grizzly bears.”
Actually, the event is open to all Zoo Society members, and anyone who wants to become a member can sign up on the spot, Neuforth said. The event will take place from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo. Family memberships are $25 a year.
“I encourage everyone to join,” Neuforth said. The contributions of members “go a long way to keeping this a free zoo.”
The feeding opportunity that members can participate in is called a “food fling,” Neuforth said. Participants will launch bear-friendly food over the top of the grizzly enclosure and let the bears scramble for their treats. It’s an activity that bears and humans alike enjoy, she added.
Neuforth was on the City Council agenda so she could talk about what the Zoo Society does. In the past year, the group has purchased, at a cost of about $1,000, an analyzer that quickly tests for lead in blood. This is important because the zoo is a refuge for injured birds of prey — known as raptors — and often if a bird is sick it has lead poisoning.
“There is lead shot all over and lead fishing weights on the bottom of ponds,” Neuforth said. “When a bird or other animal is displaying symptoms of lead poisoning, we can test levels. That immensely increases the survival rate of raptors.”
More recently, the Zoo Society spent about $4,000 to buy a 72-foot, commercial refrigerator to help the staff meet dietary requirements for the animals, she said. “We were happy to purchase this for the zoo and happy to buy it through a local vendor.”
The Zoo Society has also helped buy materials for the new Parrot House, which is being built by City employees. For years the zoo had parrots and other exotic birds on loan to Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility, where they were cared for by inmates. But the Kansas Department of Corrections changed the mission of LCMHF and ended the program.
“We suddenly ended up with all the birds coming home to roost,” Neuforth said. Until the Parrot House is done, not all of the birds are on display. The Zoo Society used funds from an annual gift it receives from the Bill McKown Foundation and even with City crews doing the construction, this project will cost over $10,000.