Connie Storrie says she will retire this month from the Kansas Wildlife Exhibit in Central Riverside Park after 36 years of service.
Storrie said she happened upon the job in 1983. Since then, she has helped transform the small, rundown zoo.
Storrie says she and her small crew constructed most of the new exhibit themselves, including all of the stonework designed to create comfortable homes for the animals.
Today’s updated exhibit is home to a badger, bobcat, turkey vulture, and an array of native Kansas animals.
Throughout the years, the exhibit — which is operated by the city of Wichita — has faced the threat of closure several times. But Storrie and the zoo persisted.
She says providing the level of care she wishes to give the animals can be challenging due to financial constraints.
“We try to do the best we can with what we have,” Storrie says. “We try to do a lot of enrichment and put things in their cages that will keep them happy and occupied.”
She has housed and fostered some of the animals during transitional times. Storrie says many of the animals have been in her care since they were babies -- she even bottle-fed many of them.
Her work doesn’t stop at the exhibit. Storrie brings the animals with her to the Great Plains Nature Center for educational programs, an event she says people of all ages love.
She says she has mixed feelings about leaving the animals — her "babies" — but says she’s looking forward to taking some time off.
Storrie hopes to travel after retirement; Costa Rica is her dream destination. She also plans to finish fixing up her current home and then move to her home in the Flint Hills.
Mya Acosta is an intern in the KMUW News Lab.