1953 - The zoo in Great Bend, Kansas is the direct result of the vision of the very first director of public lands, Brit Spaugh. The zoo was then named City Park. The first animals were delivered to the zoo in 1953 in an upheaval of dissatisfaction. The newspaper of that time felt that removal of a baseball field in order to house deer was a crime. However Mr. Spaugh held his own, and the test of time has seen his vision surpass even his dreams.
1953 – The zoo’s first “dangerous” animals arrives at the zoo. Two black bears were donated to the city by the Montana Fish and Game Commission. The older of the two bears had been the Montana University football squad mascot.
1958 – Brit Spaugh imports the first international animals to the zoo. Two Aoudads, also known as Barbary Sheep, were imported to the US from northern African by a company from New York and were traded for several of the zoo’s surplus deer.
1959 – Four Spider Monkeys arrive at the zoo to live on “Monkey Island”.
1959 – An alligator is found at the Arkansas Sand and Gravel Company pit and is relocated to the zoo.
May 28, 1964 – Two four month old Polar Bear cubs arrive at the zoo, after a California business man was hired by a Great Bend resident to go to Alaska to hunt a female bear and capture her cubs. When speaking of trying to catch the frightened cubs the businessman was quoted by the Great Bend Tribune as says, “It sounds simple, but at arm’s length, it’s no easy job trying to handle an angry bear cub with one notion – to rip out your throat.”
1965 – The zoo’s name is officially changed from City Park to Brit Spaugh Park in honor of its founder.
July 16, 1965 – Six rare Trumpeter Swan cygnets hatched at the zoo. According to the US Department of the Interior the hatching of the Trumpeter Swans in captivity had never been recorded in the 100 years of records of the department.
April 16, 1966 – Brit Spaugh Park signs installed at each park entrance to honor the outstanding work done in providing Great Bend with one of the best parks in the State of Kansas.
1966 - The reins were turned over to the second director of public lands, Jerry Tillery. During this time the zoo continued to grow, adding what was named the hoof stock area and the collection adapted the theme of North American animals only.
1970 – The zoo welcomed four Humboldt Penguins to the collection. They were housed next to the pair of California Sea Lions that had arrived at the zoo the year earlier.
1980’s – “Bear Sixty”, as known as Maggie, arrives at the zoo. Bear Sixty had been a three time offender in Montana, having regularly been caught raiding dumpsters. Park officials decided she had run out of chances and was due to be euthanized. Rangers attempted to relocate her two six month old cubs but as they were being flown by helicopter over the forest the trap they were in malfunctioned and the plunged hundreds of feet into the forest. One cub died from her injuries the following day and the other ran into the forest and threw off her radio collar and her fate is unknown. Bear Sixty was then relocated to the Border Grizzly Project where she was kept in a cell of a former World War II internment camp. While she was there researchers used her in their search for an effective bear repellent to help cut down on human-bear conflict. After capsaicin (more modernly known as pepper spray) was discovered as a solution, “Bear Sixty” was retired to Brit Spaugh Zoo where she was renamed “Maggie” and lived a long, content life her companion Max.
1986 – A zookeeper was attacked by a leopard after entering the same space as it. The animal was shot and killed by another zookeeper.
1995 - The third director of public lands took the challenge of molding the zoo. Mike Cargill became the director with the opportunity to move and update the zoo to a modern facility. Outdated enclosures were replaced with larger naturalistic enclosures. The philosophy was changed from North American animals only, to now represent animals from all over the world with unique adaptations.
2002 - Mr. Cargill applied for AZA accreditation. It was denied due to too many existing problems, all of which would not be completed in one year. It was also noted that he did not have the “AZA philosophy”.
2005 – A keeper failed to secure the door into the cougar exhibit and the animal escaped. It was successfully tranquilized and safely returned to its exhibit.
2008 - A keeper failed to secure the door into the cougar exhibit and the animal escaped. Zoo officials were forced to dispatch the animal. In the wake of the incident Superintendent Cargill resigned his position.
2008 - With a long deliberation there was a vote to add the name Great Bend to the zoo title. If the zoo was to become accredited in the future, having the city name in the title would place the zoo on the map. People would know where the zoo is located by the title. So the name of the zoo officially changed to Great Bend-Brit Spaugh Zoo.
2009 - Scott Gregory was brought in to replace Mr. Cargill as Zoo Director. Scott was hired with the revitalized emphasis of attaining AZA accreditation. The City of Great Bend removed the position director of public lands, and separated the zoo from the public lands department, so the new director could concentrate on only the zoo.
2012 – Mr. Gregory applied for AZA accreditation. It was again denied due to too many existing problems, all of which would not be completed in on year.
2014 – Mr. Gregory resigned his position, leaving the zoo in the hands of curator, Nicole Benz.
2015 – The City of Great Bend reinstated the position of Director of Public Lands, and Scott Keeler, Park Supervisor, was appointed. Nicole Benz resigned her position and zoo keeper Sara Hamlin was promoted to the position of Zoo Supervisor and Curator. She brought with her more than eight years of experience in four different zoos where she specialized in the care of big cats.
2016 – Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo was awarded two grants totaling $230,000 from the Dorothy M. Morrison Foundation to renovate the Grizzly Bear exhibit and to reintroduce Bison to the zoo.
A lot has changed since the first animal arrived in 1953, however one of the dreams Brit Spaugh had still holds true today, and that is that the Great Bend-Brit Spaugh Zoo has been, and still is free to the public as an experience to the citizens of Great Bend, and guests from all over the world!