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History of Como Park Zoo

I found an old, now unavailable, web page about the history of Como Park zoo by using the “wayback machine”. It was published in 1997 to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the zoo. Its content is reproduced here.

1897 Como Zoo is founded when the City of St. Paul receives a gift of three deer. A pasture is fenced for them in Como Park.

1902 The animal collection at Como Zoo includes native animals like elk and moose, plus foxes and two Cebus cattle. Several citizens donate pets to the Zoo – a parrot, a pair of Mexican red birds and a monkey.

1915 Lt. Governor Thomas Frankson donates two bison to Como Zoo. Como Park Conservatory is built. The new Conservatory provides a warm winter home for Zoo animals.

1926 “Peggy”, an American black bear, is donated to Como Zoo. A cage is build for her out of some old iron arches that had been standing in the Park.

1930 Because spring and fall rains make the Zoo too muddy for visitors, cement walkways are build in the Zoo, and the roads are paved.

1932 Monkey Island (now Seal Island) is built. This is the first of several Como Zoo buildings constructed by the WPA, also including the bear grottoes, the Main Zoo Building and the Old Barn.

1934 Como Zoo acquires a large number of exotic animals when the Longfellow Gardens Zoo in Minneapolis closes.

1937 Frank Buck, world-famous explorer, attends the dedication ceremony of the new Main Zoo Building at Como Zoo. The bear grottoes are completed. The St. Paul Zoological Society buys animals for the new buildings.

1940 Como Zoo has paved parking lots, a “Kiddie Zoo” and space for rides and concessions. A “raccoon pit” is added, later changed into a prairie dog hill.

1951 The mill house and water wheel are built in the bird yard.

1953 “Rabbitville” is built. Later it will be expanded into the Children’s Farm Zoo.

1954 A Northern Pacific steam engine is moved to the grounds of Como Zoo. The St. Paul Zoological Society disbands and donates its remaining funds to the Zoo.

1955 City officials recommend closing Como Zoo. A Citizen Volunteer Committee is formed to save the Zoo.

1956 Archie Brand’s Seal Show comes to Como Zoo through the efforts of a wealthy Minnesota businessman. Many repairs are made at the Zoo, and more new animals arrive: Ostrich, jaguars, seals, llamas, baboons and monkeys.

1957 John A. Fletcher becomes the first Como Zoo Director. The Zoo has six employees and an annual budget of $30,000. A number of valuable and endangered animals, such as Siberian tigers, gorillas and orangutans join the Zoo collection.

1958 Toby, the giant Galapagos tortoise, comes to live at Como Zoo. Small children are allowed to ride on Toby’s back. The first Siberian tigers to be raised successfully in captivity are born at Como Zoo.

1959 Como Zoo’s Mobile Zoo visits locak schools. Jerry Fearing, of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, draws weekly features about animals at the Zoo. “Casey” the gorilla arrives.

Early 1960’s Talking story books describing the animals, their origins and habitats, are installed at Como Zoo. Zoo visitors can purchase elephant-shaped keys to operate the talking story books.

1966 The Metropolitan Zoo Report of the Citizen’s League decides Como Zoo cannot be expanded into a major zoo facility. Planning for the Minnesota Zoo begins.

1969 Again, citizens rally to raise funds to save Como Zoo. The Como Zoo Docent Association is founded by some of the same people. The original Primate House is build where the present-day Primate House now stands. Don and Donna, young lowland gorillas, arrive at the Zoo.

1972 In January, keepers are forced to shoot “Whitey”, a male polar bear, to save the life of a midnight visitor who fell into the bear grotto. In August, the perimeter fence around the Zoo is completed. For the first time, the Zoo animals are protected from vandalism.

1974 The Como Zoological Society is incorporated as a support group for Como Zoo. Toby, the Galapagos tortoise, retires to the Honolulu Zoo, where he still lives today.

1976 A new Master Plan for Como Zoo is presented to the State Legislature, which approves $8.5 million funding for the redevelopment of the Zoo.

1980 The first of the new buildings, the Large Cat Exhibit, opens.

1982 The new Aquatic Animal Building opens to the public with new quarters for the polar bears and a show arena for the Sparky the Sea Lion show. Monkey Island is rebuilt as Seal Island. Casey II, the grandson of Como’s original Casey, comes from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, to live at Como.

1985 The new Primate Building is ready to house gorillas, orangutans, lemurs, monkeys and tamarins.

1986 A large outdoor pool and waterfall are part of the new Land Bird and Waterfowl Exhibit.

1988 The African Hoofed Stock Exhibit, housing giraffes, zebras and two kinds of antelope, is the final building to be completed under the Master Plan of the 1970’s.

1994 Don the gorilla dies. In May, Casey II jumps out of the outdoor gorilla exhibit and takes a short walk before jumping back into his yard. Como Zoo starts planning a new and better gorilla exhibit.

1996 Over one million visitors come to Como Zoo, including thousands of children from Minnesota Schools. Sparky the Sea Lion Show celebrates its 40th Anniversary season, featuring Sparky IV.

1997 Como Zoo celebrates its 100th Anniversary.

The information in this post was copied from what is called the WayBack Machine. An organization copied several websites knowing that many of the earlier attempts at websites would be abandoned, like this one created in 1997 to celebrate Como Zoo’s 100th birthday. Click on this link to see the original web page.

8 replies on “History of Como Park Zoo”

I think that is the polar bear that is at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The story I heard is that a couple of teen age boys threw a hunk of concrete into the pit, injuring or killing one of the bears. I asked Victor about it and he said it was before his time.

Is it any wonder why silverback gorillas die.Try putting yourself in their place.. image the stress, you’ll want to say: God, get me
out of here.. all these people laughing and staring at me and making so much noise… why can’t they sit down and be quiet and
well-mannered like us gorillas. How can I help my ladies – I can’t
move them anywhere, so they can have peace. I have no earth, grass,
bushes, or trees to put my feet on or surround me so I and my
family can have a life. Most of the peoples’ faces and eyes make
me uneasy. (Believe me for I have sat day after day in a zoo
observing a group of gorillas and found the crowds of peoples’
faces and eyes most disturbing. If a zoo keeps gorillas, just give
them what they need =natural surroundings and places to hide from
the public – the better their home, the less stress. You’re
supposed to please the animals(all animals in zoos), after all
they’re the ones locked up… forget the public, they’ll come
anyway, even more, because who wants to see unhappy animals – only
twisted minds. So go for the best and give your animals the best,
and you’ll get the best.

No th chunk of concrete on the bears head was in the early 1980’s because it happened when I was a kid. We went to the zoo a lot and I remember it happening.

The polar bear brutally killed in the early 80s should be added. I believe the bear’s name was Kuma or something simular to that. I still remember seeing the report of it on the news. It still saddens me.

I remember in the mid 70s that the only bald eagle the zoo had was stolen. I never heard if it was recovered / returned.

In January 1972, zoo keepers were forced to shoot Whitey, a male polar bear, to save a midnight visitor who fell into the bear grotto

— source: Wikipedia (yeah, I know)

Whitey the polar bear was shot by a Saint Paul Police Officer, not zookeepers, to save the life of a drunk who had climbed over the barrier and into the pit at the old WPA era polar bear exhibit. The Officer was a friend who always felt bad about having to kill the bear.

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