In 1919, George Finnup donated over 100 acres of land to build a park in memory of his father. Finnup Park became a zoo less than a decade later when the Chief of Police and Park and Zoo Superintendent, Lee Richardson, brought in a pair of skunks. The local chapter of the Izaak Walton League challenged each member to find at least one animal to help get the zoo off the ground, and the best was a gift of an African lion, which was purchased from a traveling circus. It was officially named in honor of Lee Richardson in 1950, and he died the next year.
Opened in 2005, the zoo's newest exhibit is called Kansas Waters and celebrates the freshwater life in this state. Visitors can enjoy and up-close experience watching otters live and play, and an interactive learning experience helps children understand the water cycle. Other animals featured in the North American section of the park include foxes, elk, bison, and pronghorns. All of these animals live in environments that simulate what Kansas once looked like.
One of the most popular exhibits at this zoo is the big cats exhibit. The donation of the lion in the early days of the zoo really solidified this park as a legitimate tourist destination. Today, they also have Siberian tigers, American mountain lions (also called pumas or cougars), jaguars, snow leopards, and bobcats. In addition, the zoo is home to a pachyderm exhibit that features two African elephants that were humanely culled from the wilds of Zimbabwe and a black rhino, also an endangered African species.
Of the nearly 150 species found at the Lee Richardson Zoo, many are part of the conservation effort known as the Species Survival Plan. Started in 1981, this plan maintains animal specials that are threatened in the wild. A number of animals at this zoo, including the spider monkey, red panda, Victoria crowned pigeon, and Bali Mynah, are a part of this program, and even more animals at this zoo are part of the national Population Management Plan program, which is a similar program for animals that aren't as highly threatened. The Lee Richardson Zoo's Population Management Plan program includes the red kangaroo, reticulated giraffe, black howler monkey, bleeding heart dove, hooded crane, burrowing owl, kookaburra, trumpeter swan, and leaf-tailed gecko.
The Lee Richardson Zoo, in addition to housing a number of reptiles and mammals, is also home to the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary, which includes a large flight cage and four smaller indoor exhibits. Guests can see cardinals, owls, lovebirds, storks, cranes, ducks, and many other species of birds from around the world at this aviary. Their open-air flight cage is open throughout the year, though the only birds visitors can see during the winter months are hardy species like pheasants and mynas. Other birds are protected indoors from the cold Kansas climate.
The Lee Richardson Zoo is accredited by the national American Zoo and Aquarium Association. They're open seven days a week, with hours starting at 8:00 AM. Guests can choose to walk through the zoo for free, or they can drive a vehicle through for just a minimal charge. Prospective visitors can call 620-276-1250 for more information.