When you sponsor the African penguin or the Sunken Garden, you’ll support the adorable animals and graceful gardens at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, so they thrive all year long. And we’ll send a cuddly penguin plush or elegant conservatory note cards to your friend or loved one.

Sponsor the African penguin or the Sunken Garden today for the special Giving Tuesday price of $45.

When you sponsor the African penguin or the Sunken Garden, you’ll support the adorable animals and graceful gardens at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, so they thrive all year long. And we’ll send a cuddly penguin plush or elegant conservatory note cards to your friend or loved one.

Sponsor the African penguin or the Sunken Garden today for the special Giving Tuesday price of $45.

When you sponsor the African penguin or the Sunken Garden, you’ll support the adorable animals and graceful gardens at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, so they thrive all year long. And we’ll send a cuddly penguin plush or elegant conservatory note cards to your friend or loved one.

Sponsor the African penguin or the Sunken Garden today for the special Giving Tuesday price of $45.

When you sponsor the African penguin or the Sunken Garden, you’ll support the adorable animals and graceful gardens at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, so they thrive all year long. And we’ll send a cuddly penguin plush or elegant conservatory note cards to your friend or loved one.

Sponsor the African penguin or the Sunken Garden today for the special Giving Tuesday price of $45.

Thanks to a combination of private donations and public funding, Como Harbor is a state-of-the-art habitat that has transformed the heart of Como Zoo. The new habitat has temperature-controlled salt-water pools that allow seals and sea lions to swim outdoors year-round—just as they would in the wild. The immersive and naturalistic design of the habitat features rocky outcroppings that reflect the Pacific coast, with a newly shaded amphitheater and underwater viewing area that give visitors close-up views of all three species that will call Como Harbor home. Behind the scenes, expanded animal care stations and underwater transfer areas will allow animals to swim in and out of every corner of Como Harbor, while providing multiple locations where zookeepers can provide specialized care for Como’s California sea lions, harbor seals and Atlantic gray seals.

While the historic Como Zoo and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory are two of St. Paul’s most beloved cultural treasures, only 16 percent of Como’s average 1.7 million annual visitors come from the Capital City. “An even larger number of visitors, more than 400,000 every year, are actually from greater Minnesota, and 15 percent come from outside the state,” says Michelle Furrer, Como’s Campus Director. “The sheer number of visitors to Como makes clear that we’re an important part of the tourism economy.” In fact, a 2015 study from Sapphire Consulting found that Como annually generates more than $162.7 million in economic impact for our region, along with nearly 2,100 jobs.

Just as important to Minnesota lawmakers, says Furrer, was the strong public/private partnership between Como Friends and Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. “Seeking state funding is a competitive process because there are so many needs across the state,” she says. “Having a strong track record of success working with Como Friends to build improvements like Polar Bear Odyssey and The Ordway Gardens definitely strengthened our case. It showed legislators that we had the community support behind us to leverage additional dollars to achieve our goals with Como Harbor.”

“We’re so proud of what our supporters have made possible in Como Harbor,” says Jackie Sticha. “Generous philanthropic gifts and public funding mean that transformational improvements are possible at Como without compromising our commitment to free admission and barrier-free access for everyone.”

“It is our first visit here, and it is an amazing opportunity. We asked how much it was and they said it’s free. And I said, ‘Are you sure?” –Lionnel Djon, Thunder Bay, Ontario

THANKS TO YOUR SUPPORT COMO, IS FREE AND FABULOUS, 365 DAYS A YEAR

Admission is free. Parking is free. Children are free. Adults are free. Como Zoo is free. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is free. At Como, free means free.

Como was founded by visionaries and volunteers who foresaw the need for creating a public green space at the heart center of the Twin Cities. More than a century later, that vision has made Como Park Zoo & Conservatory the most visited cultural destination in the state of Minnesota, often welcoming nearly two million children and adults each year. With its historic architecture, significant horticultural collections and state-of-the-art habitats, visiting Como has been a shared memory for more than five generations of Minnesotans.

 But what’s truly unique when compared to other zoos and botanical gardens across the country is Como’s open door policy–free admission that’s made possible, in part, by your contributions to Como Friends. “Over the past 20 years, our successful public/private partnership has helped  protect the free admission this community cares about, and to introduce a whole new generation to the wonders of nature without any barriers to access,” says Jackie Sticha, President of Como Friends, the nonprofit fundraising partner of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  

We recently asked a few of Como’s two million annual visitors to talk about why kids need time in nature and what free admission means to them.


“My family and grandkids had the opportunity to spend the day at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. It was the best day ever!

How wonderful that we could see and do so many things for FREE! We did make a donation. It made me realize how many wouldn’t be there if there was a big entrance and parking fee like so many other places. Everyone has a chance to go. That is so great!!

Thank you so much for giving families this memorable experience.” Como Visitor

– Dell Brisson, Cottage Grove
Testimonials

“Introducing kids to nature broadens their world and lets them know it is bigger than they are.”

– Dell Brisson, Cottage Grove
– Gina Thrap, St Paul
Testimonials

“We come to Como probably six times a year. The Sunken Garden is a must—when I was in college I would come and study in the Conservatory because it was nice and warm and relaxing. We obviously like the giraffes, but it’s important to introduce kids to nature so they can see the big picture, the circle of life, and see how we are all connected and we have to take care of our animals, and they take care of us.”

– Gina Thrap, St Paul
– Denise Glasrud, Stillwater
Testimonials

“Como’s free admission allows everyone to come and it doesn’t exclude anyone. And I hope it stays that way. It’s easy to visit for a whole day or just a couple hours. It is such a world of electronics that I think that bringing kids back to nature is a good thing.”

– Denise Glasrud, Stillwater
– Guy and Mae Aho, Shoreview
Testimonials

“With a free zoo, you get more public awareness. We are all involved together in saving the wild species all over the world and the people who are connected to the animals. Helping one is helping all of us.

We come every day—you never know who you’re going to meet. We meet people from all over the world here. We talk to parents with little kids each day, we meet grandparents whose grandparents took them here. Como is one thing that they can share with kids and grandkids for decades.”

– Guy and Mae Aho, Shoreview

One of Como Zoo’s first female keepers, Marisa Paulat has spent 43 years loving and learning from large cats

Zookeeping was a male-dominated profession in the late 1960s when 11-year-old Marisa Paulat announced to her parents that she wanted to take care of the animals at Como Zoo. A decade later, when she was finally old enough to apply for a position, there were still just two women on Como Zoo’s staff, “and they made it clear they didn’t want to hire any more,” Paulat says, remembering the demanding physical endurance test she was required to pass in 1979 before she could be considered for the job.

“The idea was to weed out any women who were going to apply. But I practiced all summer running 50 yard dashes with a 50 pound sandbag on my shoulder,” she says. “I was not going to let them take this chance away from me.”

That tenacity helped earn Paulat her dream job caring for Como Zoo’s large cats, where she’s enjoyed a reputation for winning over felines too big to be toyed with. “If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s breaking through to challenging animals that have maybe had some bad experiences in their lives,” she says. “Sometimes it takes months of perseverance, but if you leave me alone with them, I will break through.” Set to retire in late June after 43 years of service, Paulat recently sat down with Como Friends to share her secrets for making the world’s largest felines fall in love with her.

Zookeeping as a profession has really evolved over the last 40 years. What was it like when you started?

What surprised me when I first started was that it was more of a civil service job than it was about animal care, and there weren’t a whole lot of us on staff. So zookeepers were the jack-of-all-trades—we did the maintenance, we cleaned the buildings, we closed the gates, we did security, we made the public announcements, we answered the phone, we did the secretarial work, we got everyone off the zoo grounds at the end of the day. We counted the money from the pop machines and we weighed the big anaconda. If there was anything to do, we did it.

Your tenure also coincides with Como’s transition from being a small city zoo, to becoming an accredited zoo with a strong reputation for animal care.

Yes, one of the highlights of my career was being here from the very beginning and watching Como evolve the way it has. Como Zoo was supposed to close when they built the Minnesota Zoo—that was the game plan. But the neighborhood didn’t want that to happen, and instead, helped us to improve. I was part of the very first accreditation process with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums which was really hard work, and we’ve been continually reaccredited ever since. Enrichment is, in my eyes, the most important thing we can do for animals, and that began to grow at the same time new buildings were going up. The building that enabled the Zoo to move forward the most was the new Visitor Center in 2003—that’s when things just skyrocketed forward with higher-end functions like classrooms, and rental space for weddings, and a beautiful building for the community. Being able to reach out to the public like that helped us to move forward faster.

Teaching the public about what zoos can do to support conservation has also moved front and center at Como.

That’s really true. One of the things I’m very proud of is what we’ve done for cougars. In the old days, we had cougars that had come from people’s homes as pets, which is not something we want to encourage. When one of our cougars died of old age, I talked our zoo director into keeping the exhibit empty for a couple of years until we could rescue orphaned cougars from the wild. In the 1980s, U.S. Fish and Wildlife preferred to euthanize cougars that were orphaned in the wild, so I worked with another keeper in Oregon to convince them that cougar cubs from the wild would have good homes in zoos. Sienna and Sierra were the first two cubs we helped save from the wild, and now, of course, we have Ruby and Jasper. Every zoo in the nation now gets their cougars from the wild, and we don’t breed them because there are so many orphaned cubs that need rescuing. I’m very proud of what we did to convince them that zoos could be part of the solution.

During your career, you must have given thousands of keeper talks about large cats. Of the 40 known species of wild cats in the world, which kind are your favorite?

The striped and spotted ones, tigers and leopards, are the most beautiful of the cats. But after caring for so many African lions here at Como, I think they’re my favorite. They’re the only species that live in groups called prides, and watching the social interactions between the males and females, the whole family structure, and how the males actually help with cubs, I just find them the most fascinating.

You became an honorary member of the pride by raising one of Como Zoo’s most legendary lions, Mufasa, by hand from the time he was just three weeks old. How did that happen, and what kind of relationship did the two of you have?

His mother, Wynona, was a great mother to previous litters and other cubs who came after him. But she had a birth canal infection not long after he was born, and pushed him away and stopped feeding him. So it was my job to bathe him, and burp him and bottle-feed him until he could be reintroduced to his sister Savanna at about six months old and learn how to be a lion. When he was just a year old, he broke his leg while he was on exhibit, and I was able to talk him in on three legs to come into the building, because he trusted me. Every morning for 17 years when I walked in, he would vocalize and push his head against the mesh. I had the privilege of seeing the entire life of an animal, from beginning to end, in a way that most zookeepers will never get a chance to see. I was “Mom” to Mufasa until the day he died.

Very few humans will ever get to know a magnificent animal like Mufasa in quite the way you did. What are the secrets to building that connection with large cats, or with any other animal?

There’s only one secret—to love them so much. If you care about them so much, they know and they’re going to respond to that. And then every day after that, every action you take will be based on how much you care, and it’s going to be the right thing. You can’t go wrong then, because you’re working from your heart.

Have you ever had any close calls?

No. Never. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So a prowling tiger or a roaring lion doesn’t intimidate you?

You should be intimidated! If you don’t jump, that makes them feel so bad. But you do get to the point where you expect it and you don’t jump as much. Though every once in a while they’ll try to catch you off-guard.

Any parting advice for your fellow zookeepers?

Yes! I always tell people to squeeze the clicker and not the reinforcement. Never park under the snow leopard habitat unless you want your car to have a very special snow leopard smell after you leave, besides that, my parking spot! Don’t ever move the spoon—my cat keeping colleague Hans will know what that means. Don’t Google “wild cougars in Minnesota”—you have no idea what will come up! Look out for Nicholas, the tiger ghost. Cats aren’t the only ones who like benches. And, find enjoyment every day you have here at Como—it’s a special place.

 

Thank you for uploading