Kans. facility with history of big cat escapes, attacks gets new director
New life for man, zoo
Recently hired director, Great Bend’s Brit Spaugh Zoo to start fresh together
By Mary Clarkin – The Hutchinson News – email@example.com
GREAT BEND – When Scott Gregory talks to the animals, he does so with an English accent.
Uprooted at age 12 when his father’s printing business job took the family from England to Florida, Gregory recalls an adjustment that was tearful. Far different was the adjustment he made this month, moving from Florida to Great Bend to take over as director of the city’s zoo.
“I love the zoo,” said Gregory, 28, with an enthusiasm only surpassed in a recent interview when the topic turned to the city.
People greet each other by name, and when city officials knew he needed to find a place to live, they helped him find a home, he said.
“I honestly can’t say enough about the guys at the city,” Gregory said.
Both Gregory and city leaders have matching goals for the zoo, too.
“They want to be the top of the top,” Gregory said.
Brit Spaugh Park & Zoo, on Great Bend’s north end, drew unwanted publicity this year when a 150-pound mountain lion escaped during feeding time and was shot and killed on the zoo grounds by local law enforcement.
It served as a reminder of previous incidents.
Great Bend Police Department incident reports include a 1986 incident in which a man claimed he was attacked by a black leopard at the zoo; a 2005 report noting a mountain lion’s escape from a cage; a 2006 claim by a woman of an attack by a hawk; and a 2008 report in which the zoo director said an animal was running loose at the zoo but was caught and returned to its cage.
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections in recent years have noted, in part, the need for a more secure gate to the bison enclosure and better shelter for animals. The reports also showed corrective action subsequently was taken.
Zoos in Hutchinson, Garden City and Manhattan have achieved accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but not the Great Bend zoo.
In late September, longtime zoo director Mike Cargill resigned and the city launched a search for a new director.
Scott Gregory was enjoying a close-up view of a parade in Disney World when his cell phone rang. Great Bend City Hall was on the other end.
“So I’m yelling on my phone,” recalls Gregory, who dashed to a gift shop in a frustrating effort to find quiet.
As Gregory walked around the gift shop, city officials participating in a conference call on the other end conducted what Gregory described as a “semi-interview.”
“I haven’t got that job,” is what Gregory thought at the conclusion.
However, there was a second call from Great Bend, and the city flew Gregory to Kansas for an interview.
Gregory had been working at the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium, Fort Myers, Fla. However, a national economic recession that crippled Florida’s real estate values and raised the jobless rate also had jeopardized finances for the preserve.
Gregory sent out 50 job applications, including one to Great Bend. He handed in his two-week notice of resignation at Calusa, and the family took a holiday to Disney World. The call from Great Bend came on the family’s last day at the theme park.
The Brit Spaugh zoo is far smaller than Calusa, but it boasts a wide range of animals, from bears to lions to tigers to reptiles to ducks.
Both Gregory and Great Bend city leaders saw an opportunity.
Great Bend Human Resource Director Terry Hoff said Gregory’s previous work experience, equipping him with supervisory skills and experience with animal care, was a strong plus.
There was something else, too.
“I think that one of the things that appealed to us about Scott was his energy and his excitement,” Hoff said.
Gregory started work Dec. 7. His wife, Carin Gregory, and their 21/2-year-old son, Noel, also have moved from Florida, in a trip that involved two vehicles, two dogs and two cats.
Carin Gregory has education and work experience in the same field, and she has found a job with Great Bend veterinarian Dr. Michael Malone.
From bowling to animals
Gregory’s passion as a teenager in the U.S. was bowling. He joined a league, worked at a bowling alley, and received a bowling-related college scholarship.
“It was a lifestyle for me,” he said.
Swinging a 15-pound bowling ball, however, takes a toll on a body, and Gregory noticed signs of carpel tunnel. A doctor advised he could expect to have physical problems if he continued at that pace, so Gregory, who had pet snakes and lizards growing up, entered Santa Fe Community College in Florida, which has its own teaching zoo.
Gregory enjoyed hands-on learning as he earned a degree in zoology. After graduating, he proceeded to Wild Adventures in Georgia, where his responsibilities included big cats and big birds.
Achieving the Association of Zoos & Aquariums accreditation will require staff training, documentation and recordkeeping, and fulfilling prescribed animal care.
Officials with zoos in Sedgwick County, Garden City and Manhattan have provided help as Great Bend begins a process that could take anywhere from one to four years.
“We think it’s wonderful,” said Great Bend zookeeper Trish McKinley, as she and fellow zookeeper Michelle Wallace worked together on the grounds recently.
“It’s not just a one-time thing, it’s a continuing process,” McKinley pointed out.
Gregory also hopes to bring more school groups, Scouts and home school students to the zoo.
He’s “a young man that’s kind of an up-and-comer,” Hoff said.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org