Local author Nancy Shaw reimagines the day Como Zoo’s 400-lb gorilla struck out on his own
Casey the gorilla was a very familiar face to Como neighbor Nancy Shaw, who raised her family within lion-roaring, wolf-howling distance of Como Zoo. “My three sons always wanted to go straight to see Casey,” Shaw remembers. “They loved being face to face, up against the glass, because Casey would just track people’s eyes and really look at you.”
In fact, Shaw and one of her sons had just departed from one of their frequent trips to Como Zoo on May 13, 1994, the day that Casey surprised the crowds—and made international headlines–by climbing right out of his enclosure for a 45-minute tour of the zoo grounds before returning to his side of the habitat. “I remember wondering what it was that might have made him decide to check things out that day,” says Shaw, who taught kindergarten at Chelsea Heights Elementary for many years. “I guess you could say this story has been in my head for more than 20 years. What made him so curious?”
Como Friends Event
Garden Safari Gifts will be hosting the book signing launch of “Casey’s Great Escape” by author Nancy Shaw and illustrator DC Ice on Saturday, November 12 at 10 a.m. Shaw will also read the book for Como’s Story Time at noon on November 12 as part of Great Ape Weekend, a three-day conservation event focused on Como’s gorillas and orangutans. Beginning readers will love this rhythmical, rhyming story of “Casey’s Great Escape,” told from the point of view of one adventurous gorilla. The author will be donating 10% of sales to Como Friends for Gorilla Forest.
“Casey Great Escape” (Beaver’s Pond Press, $18.95), is a rhythmical, rhyming answer to the question, which explores what might have motivated Casey. Though the story is fictional, Shaw did her homework about what really happened that day and includes an Author’s Note that explores Casey’s post-celebrity life at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, where he is still a charismatic crowd favorite.
During his walkabout, the 400-lb gorilla left his giant footprints in fresh pavement near the exhibit—an adventure that also helped pave the way for Gorilla Forest, the largest mesh-covered primate habitat in North America. “Casey’s great escape really got people thinking about how to redesign that habitat so it’s safer and more interesting for the gorillas and the people,” say Shaw, who is donating 10 percent of book sales at Garden Safari Gifts to help support Gorilla Forest and its inhabitants. “It’s just such an amazing, interactive exhibit now. Zoos have such an important part to play in educating their visitors about animals in the wild. I love what the zoo is doing.”