Como’s education programs are back in full force, with a growing emphasis on discoveries that foster new connections with nature.

“What do you think this plant would taste like?” a second grader from St. Paul’s Capitol Hill Magnet School wonders aloud.

“Yucky,” says her classmate, as she contemplates a table full of mint, cacao and other plant specimens from the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.

“But maybe not,” says a third student, leaning in for a sniff. “This one kind of smells nice…”

Using all five senses to explore the world of plants is the power of Plant Detectives, a popular school partnership that brings second graders from the St. Paul public schools to Como with free tuition provided by Como Friends. In a classroom in Como’s Visitor Center, small teams of students work their way from station to station, smelling, touching and observing all they can about plants, and comparing their notes in a high-energy setting guided by Como’s education specialists.

During the pandemic, when school programs like this were put on pause, virtual programs like Como Connections helped classrooms around the state learn about conservation through fun and interactive videos. But as education coordinator Tim Buer says, there’s nothing like being back in person again for getting kids fired up about learning. “It’s been great to re-establish the connection that we’ve had with schools for so many years,” he says. “We don’t even have any space left in this program, it’s been so popular with teachers.”

Como field trips are a familiar tradition for many schools, but this year, the conservation curriculum is taking a new shape thanks to a new education strategic plan supported by Como Friends.  

“As our school partners were coming out of COVID, we took the opportunity to think really intentionally about all of our education programs, making sure that they’re all aligned with our conservation mission,” says Bekah Hanes, Como’s education and conservation curator.

Through Como’s growing partnership with Advancing Conservation Through Empathy (ACE) for Wildlife, a nationwide learning network, Como’s education programs have also been updated to reflect the growing body of research that shows that fostering empathy with animals and plants is a powerful tool in building life-long conservation behaviors.

Como visitors will notice the new conservation-focused vibe all across campus, from the full roster of summer camp programs relaunching this summer, to the new field trip enrichment stations you’ll see near the Visitor Center during the busy spring months. “It’s wonderful to hear the noise and energy of kids being in classroom spaces that we haven’t used for awhile,” says Hanes. “Seeing those school buses come back, and knowing the next field trip is on its way here brings us all a lot of joy.”


Your support for Como Friends has been critical to the resurgence of Como’s education programs this year, with new scholarship offerings for schools and families. Here’s a look:

Hitching a ride: With rates for school bus rentals on the rise, Como Friends is helping provide bus scholarships to schools in need to ensure that finances are never a barrier to school field trips.

Summer camp surge: After a successful pilot run last season, Como’s popular summer camps are making a full return with 12 weeks of great programs about animals and plants for preschoolers through sixth graders. Como Friends provided scholarship funding for families to enroll in Camp Como this season. Your Como Friends’ membership can also help save 10 percent off your registration costs.

St. Paul Partners: With field trips back in full swing, Como has resumed its popular second grade field trip program with the St. Paul public schools, a program paid for by Como Friends.

Nature Walk: Led by teens taught to interpret Como’s animal and plant collections, this engaging conservation program is all about getting the next generation excited about nature. At interpretive carts stationed around Como during the busy summer months, Nature Walk volunteers role-model what’s cool about conservation, connecting with an estimated 200,000 visitors every year.

Curriculum Updates: With a new focus on fostering empathy with animals and plants, Como’s education department hired a dedicated curriculum writer to update all of Como’s programs with best practice strategies for inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.

The season’s best Como traditions are back

One of the beauties of Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is finding something to delight every time you drop in. But with these inside tips about Como’s value-added programs, you’ll find even more to love.

  • The Blaze Sparky Show

    Every day at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Como Harbor’s inhabitants dive into this splashy training session, teaching visitors about the unique adaptations of harbor seals, Atlantic gray seals and California sea lions. And be sure to check out Como’s daily zookeeper talks at 11 a.m. and gardener chats at 1:00 p.m. every day, featuring a changing roster of themed animal and plant presentations for the public.

  • The Sunken Garden Summer Flower Show

    The longest-running flower show of the year, the Sunken Garden’s summer display is open now through September 22. Look for angelonia, verbena, salvia, coleus and other annuals in cherry red and pink at this hot summer showcase of floral favorites. Free and open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except for a mid-show change June 10–June 13.

  • The Mother’s Day Bonsai Show

    Experience the beauty of bonsai at this annual show, May 11 and 12, produced in partnership with the Minnesota Bonsai Society.

  • Cafesjian’s Carousel

    A Minnesota tradition that just keeps spinning, Como’s historic carousel is now open five days a week, Thursdays to Mondays, through Labor Day, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mark your calendar for free rides coming up on May 28, June 25, July 30, August 27 and September 24.

  • Insider’s Look

    Have you ever wondered what it’s like before hours at the Zoo and Conservatory? Find out at Como’s popular new Adult Program: An Insider’s Look, offering an early hours behind-the-scenes glimpse of everything that goes on at Minnesota’s most visited cultural destination. Coming May 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., $25 per person. Reserve your ticket today:

  • Garden Safari Gifts Satellite Shops

    Como Friends’ Garden Safari Gifts grows every summer with satellite locations in Como Town and at the kiosk in Polar Bear Odyssey, May 18 through September. With an unparalleled plush collection, cute gifts, and Como-themed apparel, every purchase helps to support the plants and animals you love at Como. And remember, Como Friends members enjoy 15 percent off every purchase!

  • Senior Strolls

    Get fit and make new friends at one of these early access mornings, specifically for the 55+ and up crowd. Visit Como’s website to register in advance for the following dates: May 21, June 9 and June 18.

  • Little Explorers

    Free every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon, Como’s Visitor Center Donor Plaza becomes a fun conservation station for preschoolers, with story time, hands-on activities, and nature themes including Fun with Fish on May 16, Fancy Flowers on May 23, Bird Buddies on May 30, and Down on the Farm on June 6. An ASL interpreter will also be on hand most Thursdays to interpret the 10:30 a.m. story time, 11 a.m. zookeeper talk, and the 11:30 a.m. Blaze Sparky Show.

  • Sensory-Friendly Mornings

    Experience Como with a little quiet and calm during these designated early morning openings designed for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. Visit Como’s website to register in advance for these upcoming dates: May 26, June 11 and June 23 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

  • Glass in Flight

    See the beauty of insects and other high-fliers through artist Alex Heveri’s traveling art exhibit, featuring bedazzling steel and glass butterflies, beehives, beetles, birds, and more, visiting Como’s campus from May 23 to August 31.

  • Como Town

    Make time for the Tilt-A-Whirl on May 18, opening day at Como Town! This year’s new attraction is Dinosaur Expedition, a reservation-only experience for a limited-time is a must-see event featuring 11 life-size fully robotic dinosaurs. The dinosaurs come alive at Como Town from May 24 to September 2, daily 10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; September 7– 29, Saturday and Sundays only, 10:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Remember, Como Friends Supporter-level members receive a complimentary Como Town Fun Card filled with 32 ride points, thanks to our partners at Como Town.

Como Friends marks a major fundraising milestone thanks to community support from people like you

Created by visionaries and volunteers more than a century ago, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory has always relied on community support to keep this public treasure growing. Since 2000, that’s also been the mission of Como Friends, the nonprofit fundraising partner behind major improvements like Como Harbor and Polar Bear Odyssey, and countless behind-the-scenes projects that help Como’s professionals do more for the animals and plants in their care. 

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of people like you, Como Friends has just reached an important milestone, securing more than $50 million in private donations to preserve Como’s historic campus, improve visitor amenities, update animal habitats and gardens, and expand education programs—all while preserving the free admission that welcomes nearly 1.8 million visitors each year.

“When Como Friends started 23 years ago, it would have been hard to fathom that a little start-up organization could someday raise more than $50 million,” says Jackie Sticha, who has served as the nonprofit’s president since its founding. “But we had a big vision for what was possible at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, and were able to engage some incredible community leaders who helped us to kick off the organization, and to grow our work year after year.”

“Como’s transformation over the last 20 years is really rooted in this great public/private partnership,” says Michelle Furrer, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory’s director and campus manager. “Having Como Friends with us at the table at the start of every project has been a real benefit when it comes to the design process and value engineering of our capital improvements. They can see where we’re going to have challenges, and it helps them to be a better advocate for us as they’re seeking additional funding from the community. There’s so much that Como Friends makes possible year to year, from small projects, to major repairs, to behind-the-scenes operational support. Como just wouldn’t be where it is today without their support.” 

Originally founded through the merger of several different fundraising and nonprofit groups, Como Friends has grown every year since its founding, expanding fundraising strategy and growing the retail operation at Garden Safari Gifts to keep pace with Como’s needs. From an initial contribution of $309,740 in 2000, Como Friends’ support has increased more than five-fold, with an average annual contribution of nearly $1.7 million each year—far more in years during capital campaigns the nonprofit has led. This commitment to Como’s daily operations has been critical to preserving the open-door policy at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, one of the last major metro area zoos and botanical gardens that’s always free to visitors. 

“Through three critical capital campaigns, with strong communications and stewardship, and really fun events like Sunset Affair, we’ve been able to continuously expand the community of people who care about Como by showing them the impact of their gifts,” says Sticha. “While we’re proud of achieving our mission as a nonprofit, we’re also incredibly grateful to the members, sponsors, individuals, businesses, and corporate and foundation donors that have helped us succeed through their generosity, commitment and affection for this place. We want this community to understand that every size donation does make a difference at Como, and reaching this milestone is proof of the great things we can do when we come together.”

With more than 12,000 tulip, hyacinth, daffodil, crocus, and muscari bulbs grown especially for the Sunken Garden, The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s Spring Flower Show opening next week is always one of the Twin Cities’ most colorful rites of spring.

But this season, the  plant list in “Minnesota’s most beautiful room” is also taking its cues from Minnesota’s springtime color palette. “Our goal is to make it look a little bit more like a forest,” says Como’s horticultural curator Dr. Lisa Philander.

For the show, Philander and horticulturists Bo Akinkuotu and Katie Horvath are introducing plant material that reflects Minnesota’s boreal forests and prairies. Visitors will notice birch logs and larger trees, milkweed, catchflies and black-eyed Susans, black pansies, columbine, snap dragons and delphinium, and even mini bogs that mimic the look of Minnesota’s wetlands. The show will also feature skunk cabbage provided by the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, and the showy lady’s slipper orchid, a recent gift from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Thanks to your contributions to Como Friends, all of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s rotating flower shows are free to the public. The Spring Flower Show runs daily from March 22 to April 28. 

As a Conservation Champion, Como Zoo primate keeper Em Brunmeier traveled to Peru to learn more about spider monkeys in the wild

Behind the scenes in Como Zoo’s Primate Building, Brunmeier has become a big fan of the four spider monkeys in her care—Gomez, Katie, Ellie, and Jazz—and she applied to learn more about their cousins in the wild through Conservation Champions, the Como Friends micro-grant program that encourages Como’s keepers and horticulturists to take part in conservation efforts in the field. After researching conservation projects around South America, she decided that the Kawsay Biological Station in Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru was the place to be. 

“What was really special about this location was that the team there had been able to bring back and restore a spider monkey population that had been locally extinct, and that was something that I was really excited to be part of, and to see how they were managing that,” she says. “They also work with other scientists in the area, like botanists and PhD students from abroad to research other parts of the ecosystem and how they all correlate with spider monkeys. I really wanted the chance to learn more about how all of these factors come together.” 

As part of the project, Brunmeier joined a team of researchers tracking spider monkeys that had been previously released into the Tambopata National Reserve to study the seasonal variation of their behavior. “With no GPS collars or other tracking devices, it was quite a task,” she says. “We had no guarantee we would find them and had to go pretty far into the Amazon rainforest.” But once the spider monkeys were located, Brunmeier got the chance to hear the full chorus of their vocalizations. “For spider monkeys in the wild, their home range is nearly 700 acres, and they often split up their group and then reunite at night to sleep together,” she says. “To do all of that requires quite a lot of logistics, so they’ve come up with quite a lot of vocalizations. They have little chirping sounds that they make when they’re close to each other, and really loud, bellowing calls that they use to try and find each other over long distances. It was so fun listening to them—they  have lots of things to say.” 

During her two and a half weeks in the field, Brunmeier also got the chance to care for young spider monkeys in a rehabilitation facility. “That’s where my personal expertise came in handy, because hands-on care of the animals is what I do every day,” she says. “I was also able to talk with the team about how we do primate enrichment at AZA [Association of Zoos and Aquariums] institutions in the U.S., which is something I’m passionate about.” 

Now back at Como Zoo, Brunmeier says her trip to Peru has brought new insights to her work with spider monkeys, and new ideas for ongoing animal enrichment to the conservation work at Kawsay Biological Station. “What’s cool about the Conservation Champions trips is that it’s a two-way street,” she says. “We get the chance to learn about the animals we care about in the wild, and because we know our animals at Como Zoo so well, we also have important things to share with our conservation partners.” 

Our Conservation Champions Program would not be possible without your support. Thank you!

Personalizing nature is one of the first steps in protecting it

Sparky, Neil, Chloe, and Schroeder are just a few of the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory animals known to millions of visitors by their first names. Though there was once a time when zoos shied away from showcasing the individual animals in their care, a growing body of research now tells us that encouraging the public to forge personal connections to nature is one of the best ways to protect it. 

That thinking is the driving force behind a series of new education and engagement strategies now in effect at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, thanks to support from Advancing Conservation through Empathy (ACE) for Wildlife, a learning network of AZA-accredited zoos, aquariums, and other institutions exploring effective practices for fostering empathy for animals.

“The old theory was that simply sharing knowledge would be enough to inspire action, but what we’re coming to realize is that fostering meaningful emotional connections is just as  important. Having empathy for an animal builds the desire to act on their behalf,” says Bekah Hanes, Como’s education and conservation curator. “Empathy is a skill you can develop and build on, and it’s becoming an important tool to help people cross the finish line from thinking about conservation to actually acting out those values, long after a zoo visit is over.”

The official shift toward empathy-focused engagement started in 2016, when Como Friends secured a major grant to help Como Park Zoo & Conservatory implement a new education and engagement strategy called the ROADMAP (Reaching Our Audiences by Developing Mission Aligned Programs). While the pandemic put a pause on public education programs for a time, Como continued to move ahead with its mission, securing grants from ACE for Wildlife to rewrite Como’s volunteer interpretive programs with an empathy focus, to use empathy as the lens for a new education strategic plan, and to create new permanent signage in the wolves and large cats habitat that uses empathy-inspiring language. While Como is one of the inaugural members of the ACE for Wildlife Learning Network, a special project of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, the empathy movement is gaining ground with many other AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. 

Public Engagement Coordinator Kelsey Raffel says “it’s a great shift that’s happened in a relatively short amount of time,” in part because it embodies an approach toward audience engagement that Como’s keepers, horticulturists, interpreters, and educators gravitate toward naturally. “Focusing on empathy in our education programs, volunteer training, and visitor engagement has gotten a great reception from the campus,” she says. “For instance, our interpretive staff have shared that they love talking about the individual animals we care for, their personalities and likes and dislikes, and this approach really encourages them to do that.” 


Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends, says community support is critical to providing the resources Como Park Zoo & Conservatory needs to stay current as a conservation educator and a national leader in animal care. More than 20 years ago, Como Friends funding helped Como Zoo make a shift toward positive reinforcement training for animals, and we see this empathy work as part of that same evolution,” she says. “It’s just natural to want to know the names of the animals at Como Zoo, and now the research tells us it’s also a really powerful way of connecting visitors to the natural world.”

The St. Paul Winter Carnival Orchid Show is the cure for the mid-winter blahs

With more than 28,000 naturally occurring species, the Orchidaceae family is one of the largest and most diverse of the world’s flowering plants. On January 27 and 28, Marjorie McNeely Conservatory visitors will get a chance to see the cream of the crop at the St. Paul Winter Carnival Orchid Show, a Como tradition for nearly 50 years.

Curating and designing Como’s display this year is horticulturist Alejandro Balderas, who cares about orchids even in his off-hours. “Before I moved to Minnesota from California, I had about 70 plants and 30 cultivars of my own,” he says. While he’s trimmed his personal collection to a more manageable size, there’s a good chance it will grow again once he’s had a look at the newest species and varietals for purchase at the Orchid Show’s marketplace. “There are so  many shapes and sizes, and there’s always something new on the market,” he says. “It makes it hard to resist.” 

Like the tulip mania that hit Europe in the 1600s, orchids had a similar history in the 1800s, when so-called “orchidelirium” sent prices for rare tropical species soaring into the stratosphere. But now with so many hearty varieties widely available in garden shops and grocery stores, orchids are no longer quite as intimidating to curious home gardeners. 

“Orchid growing has become much more transparent because of the internet and with people having access to the literature online,” he says, from groups like the Orchid Society of Minnesota, a co-sponsor of the Winter Carnival Show. “They’re one of the few houseplants that actually flowers consistently,” he says, with colors made to attract pollinators and people stuck indoors during the winter. “Minnesotans seem to really love their orchids,” he says. 

For the show, Balderas and other horticulturists are planning to display more than two dozen of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s best species, drawn from a large working  collection predominantly featuring plants from Central and South America. Set in the Fern Room, the design will feature a sculpture dedicated to the Conservatory on its 50th anniversary in 1965.

Advanced admission reservations are required to attend the St. Paul Winter Carnival Orchid Show, and tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for Como Friends members, seniors, and children under the age of 12. Visit this link for more information. 

Your support for Como Friends helps to make the Conservation Champions program possible, supporting Como’s talented staff’s participation in conservation partnerships and in their continued professional development. Thank you!

Reusing, reducing and recycling is one of the secrets of Como’s Sunken Garden

Horticulturist Rylee Werden has fond memories of visiting Como with her mother and grandmother. “We always came to see the flowers together, so having the chance to design a flower show that connects with the Winter Carnival Orchid Show is really an honor.”

This season’s Winter Flower Show is a storybook example of an English-style cottage garden, with dense green foliage, deep pink and purple flowers, and a casually unkempt style—as if the garden is bursting out to fill its stone boundaries after years and years of growth.  

“I was really inspired by the plant loropetalum which has a really nice weeping tree form and pretty flowers that I thought would make the pond look sort of enchanted,” says horticulturist Rylee Werden, who designed the show, her first for the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. “From there I started building in more pinks and snowy whites and icy blues to play with the winter season. And the Winter Carnival Orchid Show coming later this month is what inspired me to use two of the flowers, a snapdragon called ‘Snappy Orchid Flame’, and a Viola called ‘Orchid Rose Beacon’”.

While most of the flowers you’ll see in this season’s show were grown from seed or plugs back in September, many supporting players in the Sunken Garden’s canopy were drafted from the Conservatory’s expansive greenhouse, design choices that are helping to make Como’s five seasonal flower shows more sustainable. For instance, the small birch trees featured in the Winter Flower Show were recently culled from the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden. 

“Visitors seem to really love how they look, and we’re always excited to find a new use for what we already have,” says Werden. In fact, when the winter show is complete, the cuttings will be converted into birch poles for use in next year’s holiday plantings. 

“As often as we can, we also try to give the plants and trees we use in the Sunken Garden a second life somewhere on campus, or in the community,” says Como’s horticultural curator, Dr. Lisa Philander. For years, spring bulbs pulled from the Sunken Garden have been recycled and resold through Como Friends’ Garden Safari Gifts, with proceeds that help pay for the next year’s bulb show. Your contributions to Como Friends are also helping the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory start a new on-site compost system with the capacity to turn tons of spent plant material into rich compost for future flower shows and gardens. 

Making smart use of resources—from existing plant collections and from contributions from people like you—has helped Como Park Zoo & Conservatory keep its tradition of  five rotating flower shows going for nearly 99 years. Thank you!

To sponsor the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s Sunken Garden visit: 

From the favorite foods Como’s animals love to the free field trips that inspire the next generation, your contributions to Como Friends make more possible

There are few things Como Zoo’s giraffes love more than browsing—wrapping their legendarily long tongues around the tiny twigs and tender shoots of tree branches and shrub cuttings that keepers place in their habitat. Browse is easy to come by during the growing season, but when the cold weather comes, Como’s hoofstock herd often has to wait until springtime to tuck into their favorite bushes and branches. 

But thanks to your support for Como Friends, there’s a new giraffe snack solution on the horizon. With the help of donors, the African Hoofstock Building will have extra room in the budget to bring in fresh browse from warmer climes during the winter months, providing hours of munching, crunching, and curious exploration for Skeeter, Clover, Zinnia and Ivy, the cute new calf born in November. 

The funding for the winter browse is just a fraction of the $1.83 million annual contribution to Como Park Zoo & Conservatory that your support for Como Friends made possible this year. “We know that gifts of all amounts from our donors have an incredible impact for the animals at Como Zoo, the gardens at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory and for the people who love to come and experience Como throughout the year,” says Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends. “Since Como Friends’ start back in 2000, that’s really been one of the most satisfying aspects of our successful public-private partnership—seeing the enormous difference that a little extra generosity can make in the care of the plants and animals we love at Como, and in the ways we serve the community.” Here’s a look at how your gifts made a difference in 2023: 

Tools and Training for Even Better Animal Care:

More than 20 years ago, Como Friends funding helped launch the positive reinforcement animal training initiative that’s helped to make Como Zoo a national leader in progressive care for animals of all sizes, from penguins to polar bears. This year, your generosity will support continued animal training consulting, advising Como Zoo’s professional keepers on new findings about animal behavior and best practice training techniques to benefit all of the animals in Como’s care. Contributions from people like you also make it possible to amp up Como’s arsenal of specialized equipment, from specialized crates to care for polar bears and large cats; scuba tanks and spectrophotometers to keep water habitats healthy for amphibians, fish, and marine mammals; to a new radiograph, tonometer and digital x-ray machine that allow Como Zoo to provide quicker, cutting-edge veterinary care to animals. 

Como Friends is also making investments in more individualized animal needs. At Gorilla Forest, Schroeder’s tight-knit family troop will get a dedicated pathway for moving in and out of their habitat, giving gorillas greater choice about where they want to spend the day. A new shade structure is helping keep animals in the African Hoofstock habitat cooler on hot days. And in Tropical Encounters, Chloe the free-ranging sloth will be able to save even more of her energy with an expanded habitat that will allow her to stay in her tree 24/7, instead of retreating to her behind-the-scenes bedroom at night.

Cool Conservation Curriculum For All: 

Always a trusted educational partner to area schools, Como’s conservation programs are coming back in full force this year. Thanks to your support, Como has the resources it needs to relaunch a second grade field trip program. This summer, as Como’s popular summer camp programs resume, Como Friends funding will also support camp scholarships to ensure that families have access to Como’s cool conservation programs.

Helping the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory Grow:

Over the years, your contributions to Como Friends have helped to keep many of Como’s best horticultural traditions growing, from the fantastic Holiday Flower Show on display this month in the Sunken Garden, to the continued transformation of the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden. This year, your contributions are helping preserve and protect Como’s extraordinary horticultural collections, with a new security system for Como’s valued bonsai collection, a new lighting system in the North Garden, and a new database that helps Como’s horticulturists keep track of all the specimens in Como’s beautiful gardens.

The rainforest habitat of Tropical Encounters was reenergized by a complete soil replacement, while a new sound system will help improve the visitor experience throughout the Conservatory. As part of Como’s continued conservation efforts, your support is also helping to implement a new composting system to save time and energy, turning last year’s plant material into rich compost, right at Como. Your support also helped the Conservatory launch a new integrated pest management system, deploying beneficial bugs throughout Como’s garden to further reduce the use of pesticides. 

Free Admission for All:

Most important, your support for Como Friends helped Como Park Zoo & Conservatory make a full return to traditional operations this year, welcoming more than 1.75 million visitors—and counting. Thank you for all you do to support the natural wonders that bring our community together at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory!

The holidays are a great time to get closer to Como Zoo’s animals

The summer months are always Como Zoo’s high season, but animal fans in the know often prefer late fall, early winter. “It’s one of the best times to be here, because the animals are so active and engaging,” says Como Zoo senior keeper Jill Erzar. “We heard from so many visitors how much they enjoyed being here on Thanksgiving Day and how wonderful the animals were.” 

Some of that excitement is due to a flurry of furry new faces, all recently arrived at Como Zoo. Here’s a look at some of the new animals you’re likely to encounter on your next Como visit.

  • Ivy

    A social media star within hours of her arrival, this six foot tall, 132-pound baby giraffe has been captivating crowds and keepers alike. “She is incredibly feisty,” Erzar says, noting that it took four keepers to keep her still during her neonatal “well baby” exam just 72 hours after she was born. “We can’t walk by her without her attempting to kick us.” Her fighting spirit is a great sign of her overall health, and the doting care she’s getting from mother Zinnia, a seven-year-old female who moved to Como Zoo last summer. When it came time to name the new giraffe, more than 15,000 Como visitors voted from among three plant-themed names to pick their favorite. Judging by how fast she’s growing, Ivy is just the right choice. 

  • Bernadette

    Still skittish about making her public debut at Como Zoo, visitors have definitely heard the new female tiger making noise behind the scenes. “She’s a nice, calm, and very vocal cat,” Erzar says about the nine-year-old female originally from the Oregon Zoo. While she’s getting used to her new surroundings, keepers are taking their time introducing her to Tsar, a male tiger that could become her breeding partner. “Tiger introductions are a big deal,” Erzar says. “They’re normally solitary cats with the potential to injure each other, so we want to take the time to ensure there aren’t any issues.”

    Photo courtesy of Zookeeper Megan Hagedorn, Oregon Zoo

  • Ruby

    At nearly 700 pounds, this bison is definitely the biggest arrival Como Zoo has seen all year. But at only 16 months old, Ruby will also have plenty of room to grow in Como’s newly expanded bison habitat. Ruby is a member of the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd, a collaboration between the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Zoo, which is working to protect the genetic diversity and future health of the state’s growing bison herds at Blue Mounds State Park, Minneopa State Park, and the Spring Lake Park Reserve Bison Prairie. “She’s getting along very well and seems to really like our male bison, Bogo,” says Erzar. As winter weather descends, Ruby and Bogo will be in their element, with wooly coats that can help them withstand temps of -40F, and 50-mile-an-hour winds.

  • Willow

    Born in May, this snow leopard cub has become a visitor favorite for her adventurous spirit and natural curiosity. Though she was born blind, she’s been an intrepid explorer in the habitat she shares with mother Alya, occasionally climbing to heights that she can’t quite figure out how to come down from. “She is very playful and living her best life,” says Erzar, who says that the young cub is also showing growing interest in her keepers, especially now that “she’s realized that’s where food comes from.” 

    Permanently blind due to multiple ocular colobomas, the young snow leopard underwent an operation earlier this year to remove retinal tissue that could cause health troubles down the line. “She will be blind the rest of her life,”  says veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Melissa Lively, who confirmed the cat’s diagnosis this spring. “But because she’s never had vision, she’s never known anything different, and she’ll be able to do everything a normal snow leopard cub could do. We know that cats are fantastic at using their touch, their hearing, and their sense of smell to explore their habitat and run zoomies just like a visual cub would do. In the wild, this cub would not survive moving through vast environments without being able to see where prey is coming from, but in this zoo setting, blind cats can thrive. Especially with all of the great care they get at Como Zoo.”

    Willow’s parents Moutig and Alya will be visible in the outside habitat this winter while keepers help Willow learn to safely explore her habitat through more training behind-the-scenes. Working to meet the special needs of individual animals is one of the many ways that Como’s care team helps animals of every species thrive.

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