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Wildlife exhibit at Central Riverside Park receives $100,000 donation

Chapa the beaver at Central Riverside Park
Chapa the beaver at Central Riverside Park File photo

Chapa the beaver and Bobby the bobcat, residents of the Kansas Wildlife Exhibit in Central Riverside Park, will soon have some upgraded digs.

The exhibit has received a $100,000 donation from the Pamela J. Edwards Pet Trust, which will serve as seed money for several exhibit projects: a holding cage and a second level for the bobcat and a wider hole into the beaver’s den so he doesn’t hurt his back.

Edwards, who died in December 2013, wanted her money to help animals in the community, said Christen Skaer, a local veterinarian and Edwards’ trustee. The trust has also given to the Kansas Humane Society.

“I know she’d be so pleased to see improvements made to this wonderful exhibit and to help these animals,” Skaer said.

Animal enclosures have been in Central Riverside Park in some form or another since 1901. The Riverside Zoo was the city’s zoo until the larger Sedgwick County Zoo opened in west Wichita in 1974.

The Riverside zoo has long since lost the lion and alligators and other creatures it once housed. Since 1988, it has been filled with a variety of birds, a bobcat, a turkey vulture and other native Kansas animals.

The city pays about $60,000 each year to maintain the exhibit. In addition, Friends of the Great Plains Nature Center contributes money for the animals’ food and medications. Veterinary care is donated.

Last year, the exhibit was on the city’s chopping block, but a group of supporters called the Friends of the Kansas Wildlife Exhibit organized to save the exhibit and a part of Wichita’s history.

“It was a budget issue and it was also a concern for the type of enclosures we had, a quality-of-life issue. So by partnering with the city and coming up with ideas to improve the city, we’ve been able to develop and strengthen that partnership and improve the exhibit,” said Claire Willenberg, volunteer for Friends of the Kansas Wildlife Exhibit.

City Council member Janet Miller, whose district includes Riverside, lauded citizens who had worked to save the exhibit.

“This whole exhibit here has been under scrutiny because of budget cuts and the whole ‘we need smaller government’ philosophy, but there have been people who care about this exhibit and kept it here,” she said.

Miller then read a city proclamation declaring Saturday as Kansas Wildlife Exhibit Day.

The exhibit, which is free, has been a gathering place for families and schoolchildren for years, Willenberg said.

“Grandparents remember coming here as children. This continues that tradition.”

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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