Como Park, Part 1: Como Zoo

Founded in 1897, Como Zoo, located within Saint Paul’s Como Park, was the first zoo established in Minnesota. It was started after Saint Paul received a donation of three deer, at which point the city provided a simple fenced in pasture for the animals. The following timeline traces the growth of the zoo throughout the 20th century:

  • In 1902, the collection was expanded to include animals native to Minnesota, such as elk, moose, foxes, and two cebus cattle. It also received donations of pets, including a parrot, two Mexican red birds, and a monkey.
  • In 1915, the zoo received a donation of two bison from the future Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, Thomas Frankson. The McNeely Conservatory was also built and used as a warm winter home for the animals.
  • In 1926, the zoo received the donation of an American black bear (“Peggy”).
  • The 1930s brought exotic animals to the zoo, many from the recently-closed Longfellow Gardens Zoo. As a result, Monkey Island (1932), the Bear Grottos (1936), and the Main Zoological Building (above) were constructed.
  • During the 1940s, the zoo expanded to include paved parking lots, a Kiddie Zoo, and a Raccoon Pit (which later became Prairie Dog Hill).
  • The 1950s saw the addition of “Rabbitville” (which was later expanded into a Children’s Farm Zoo), as well as “Archie Brand’s Seal Show”, beginning in 1956. It also saw the addition of new animals, including: ostriches,  jaguars, seals, llamas, baboons, and monkeys, as well as a number of endangered animals, including: Siberian tigers, gorillas, and orangutans. In 1958, a Galapagos tortoise (“Toby”) came to live at the zoo, where he gave rides to small children sitting on his back. In the same year, the first Siberian tigers to be raised successfully in captivity were born here. In 1959, “Casey” the gorilla arrived and the Como Mobile Zoo started to visit local schools.
  • The 1960s brought what seemed to be the end of Como Zoo, when in 1966, the Metropolitan Zoo Report of the Citizen’s League decided that it could not become a major zoo facility. As a result, planning for the Minnesota Zoo began. However, in 1969, the zoo built a Primate House and brought in two new lowland gorillas, “Don” and “Donna”.
  • The 1970s brought further changes. In 1972, zoo keepers were forced to shoot a male polar bear (“Whitey”) in order to save a midnight visitor who fell into the bear grotto. Soon after, in 1974, Toby the tortoise was moved to the Honolulu Zoo, where he still lives today. Finally, in 1976, a revitalization plan was developed for the zoo, with the State Legislature ultimately granting it $8.5 million for the redevelopment process.
  • The 1980s marked a new beginning with the addition of new buildings, including: the opening of its Large Cats exhibit (1980); an Aquatic Animal building (1982); a Land Bird and Water Fowl exhibit (1986); an African Hoof Stock exhibit (1988), the final exhibit from the zoo’s 1970s master plan; and a new amphitheater for its popular “Sparky the Sea Lion Show”. In addition, it also saw the conversion of Monkey Island into Seal Island and the rebuilding of the Primate House to include lemurs, monkeys, and tamarins.
  • In 1994, one of the gorillas (“Don”) died, while another (“Casey II”) jumped out of his exhibit and took a short stroll in the park before jumping back into his enclosure! This resulted in a new and improved gorilla exhibit, with vertical walls instead of slanted ones.

The new millennium has continued to usher in new exhibits, including: Polar Bear Odyssey (2008), a polar bear exhibit 7x larger than the original, and Gorilla Forest (2013), home to “Schroeder”, a 500-pound silverback male, and his 3 female companions, along with 2 of their daughters, and a bachelor group of 3 other males.

  • Visited: many times from the 1970s-2000s

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