Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins received a “thank you” tour of the Topeka Zoo on Monday after helping out when a genuine safari Land Rover purchased for the zoo’s new Camp Cowabunga project got stuck in a South African port.
Rep. Fred Patton, a Topeka Republican who has been president of the zoo board for about five years, said he sent a text message to Jenkins when the board learned the vehicle was actually a little too young to be admitted to the U.S. It was 20 years old and needed to be 25 to be brought in as a museum exhibit piece.
It would otherwise be required to have safety hardware, such as airbags, and the zoo didn’t intend to add those kinds of expensive upgrades, said zoo director Brendan Wiley.
Jenkins smoothed the process by helping to put Fawn Moser, the zoo’s manager of operations, in contact with the right people to resolve the problem.
“The core purpose of Camp Cowabunga was to be on a camp site on safari with Gary Clarke, so it really feels like you’re in Africa for the kids and adults,” Patton said.
Clarke, around whom the exhibit has been structured, was zoo director from 1963 to 1989 and led 140 photo safaris to Africa. He has insisted that displays at Camp Cowabunga have genuine artifacts and recreate the safari experience. The Land Rover was one of those items.
“We literally bought it in a junk yard and it wasn’t running,” Wiley said. “It was $2,200 for the vehicle, and then it was repainted. Some of the dents were taken out, canvas was replaced, we actually had two sets of canvas done, and then to get it here — when it arrived at the zoo — we had $8,500 in it.”
It took four or five months for the Land Rover to arrive in the U.S., but it has been at the zoo since last year, awaiting the completion of construction for the new camp.
The Land Rover will be placed halfway in and halfway out of the red patas monkey exhibit.
“The monkeys will actually be able to get up on the hood of the vehicle and interact with guests,” Patton said. “We don’t want to tell you how because it will give away the excitement for the guests.”
Moser said the South African search for authentic artifacts yielded other successes, including some skeletons, such as a jaw bone, and camping equipment that included baskets, canteens and shovels. They also had exhibit signs made at a design shop.
After seeing the Camp Cowabunga site, Jenkins went to see and feed a sloth and its baby in the zoo’s tropical rainforest exhibit.
Climbing a ladder with a slice of bright red apple in her hand, Jenkins laughed as the sloth refused to eat her offering.
“She rejected the apple,” she said once her feet were back on firm ground. “She was hanging upside down like ‘feed me.’ She didn’t want to even extend the energy to hold it herself. Why would you if somebody’s going to stand there and feed you?”
It was awesome, Jenkins added.
Patton wasn’t quite as lucky as Jenkins. A parrot — one of two perched directly above his head as he handed food to Jenkins — delivered an unfriendly welcome.
“You can’t take him anywhere,” Jenkins joked. “He’s got bird poop on his hands.”