Grand opening set for Cat Canyon exhibit

9/19/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

A little more than a year after breaking ground, Lee Richardson Zoo's Cat Canyon exhibit is set to open to the public with a ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday.

The $1 million exhibit provides a larger, more natural habitat for the zoo's cougar, bobcats and jaguars, which previously were housed in the Cats of the America exhibit — an earlier Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo project completed in 1981.

Designed by WDM Architects of Wichita, funds for Cat Canyon were raised through donations, special events, grants and two zoo-themed theatrical shows. The groundbreaking took place on Aug. 2, 2012, and construction by Harbin Construction of Salina began soon after.

Cat Canyon features glass viewing windows, allowing guests a face-to-whisker viewing of the cats. During Sunday's celebration, refreshments will be provided. The event will also include children's activities, discovery carts and a keeper meet-and-greet.

Brian Nelson, FOLRZ executive director, believes the public is going to be impressed.

"I think the public is just going to be blown away," Nelson said. "It's a beautiful, modern exhibit. It's very natural habitat. It doesn't feel like a cage. The enclosure allows the public to get up really close to them."

Heated rocks will help draw the cats up near the glass so people can really get a good look, he said.

The exhibit will be home to three jaguars, three bobcats, and a new mountain lion. The mountain lion, Peyton, recently arrived at the zoo from Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita. One of the bobcats is too young to be in with the older two cats at the current time, so she will go on exhibit later, Nelson said.

Kathy Sexson, executive director of the zoo, said Cat Canyon will provide much more space for the animals. Both the jaguars and mountain lion yards are about 2,800 square feet each, while the bobcat yard is about 800 square feet. Previously, each of the three species had about 630 square feet. The yards are also much taller, giving the cats more vertical space, she said.

Sexson thinks people — and the cats — will like the new exhibit.

"The cats, as we've been letting them out the last few days to look at their surroundings, have been coming right up to the glass and interacting with people who were in the viewing building," she said. "At least the mountain lion and the jaguars have. The bobcats are a little more stand-offish. But they're all adjusting really well."

Contact FOLRZ at 276-6243 for more information about Sunday's ribbon cutting, or follow FOLRZ on Facebook.

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