Volunteers at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory have finished planting hundreds of tulip bulbs flown in from the Netherlands deep under a layer of potting soil, Como Zoo’s orangutan troop just got their flu shots, and another bus full of second graders are rolling up to the front door of the Como Visitor Center, ready to take their very first field trip.

It’s all in a day’s work at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, where your contributions to Como Friends helped provide for a variety of every-day operations and major improvements in 2017. Here’s a look:

A FACELIFT FOR COMO ZOO’S LARGE CATS: If you take a seat in the new Safari Jeep built into Como Zoo’s lion habitat, there’s a good chance you’ll see Savannah the lioness prowl right on top of the engine, or press her big paw against the glass. Creating more close-up encounters like this was all part of the design plan of Como Zoo’s latest habitat face-lift, which has brought improved lighting, interpretive signage and inviting small group seating areas to the historic Large Cat building with funding provided by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment and matching contributions from Como Friends.

BIG PLANS FOR SPARKY: Como Friends’ continued advocacy efforts met with a major success last spring, when Minnesota lawmakers approved $15 million in public funding to support a major habitat restoration for Sparky the Sea Lion and the other pinnipeds in Como Zoo’s care. With year-round viewing, salt-water pools, and a naturalistic look reminiscent of the California coast, the new habitat–starting construction this winter–will help preserve the “Sparky” legacy and inspire the next generation with the wonders of our natural world.

A GROWING MINNESOTA GARDEN: In 2017, private contributions to Como Friends also helped seed the new Minnesota Garden, a new landscape of native plants and public sculpture that now welcomes visitors at Como’s front door. Part of a thoughtful plan to calm traffic and improve pedestrian access to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, the gorgeous new paths of the Minnesota Garden invite strollers of all ages to take time to smell the flowers.

CONSERVATION CHAMPIONS: Como Friends launched a new micro-grant program in 2017, inviting educators, keepers and horticulturists to take an active part in conservation efforts at home and around the world. Thanks to community support, Como professionals have studied endangered penguins and herd dynamics of hoofstock in South Africa, collected the DNA of endangered giraffes in Namibia, and explored new ways to raise the freshwater mussel population right here in Minnesota.

A FIRST FIELD TRIP: The St. Paul Public School District is giving high marks to a new Second Grade field trip program that provided a free conservation class and  door-to-door transportation to more than 70 district classrooms.  Teachers tell us that the  ‘All About Plants’ curriculum taught by Como’s education specialists helps support statewide science standards and research curriculum for writing and reading, and “the free bus was key for us as we do not have funding for field trips and many of our families cannot afford to pay additional funds for field trips.”

 A “RISING STAR” RESTORATION: The Ordway Gardens, a Japanese horticultural wing created entirely by contributions to Como Friends, was the focus for several improvement projects in 2017—inside and out. Private contributions made it possible for the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory to add several valued Bonsai to its growing collection, while continuing its work to realign the historic Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden with the original vision of the late Nagasaki landscape artist Masami Matsuda. Now considered a “rising star” among North American Japanese gardens, a new pedestrian path will soon bring garden visitors full circle, connecting the historic Tea House to the rest of this sansui garden.

 EVERYDAY WONDERS: From the free admission that invites nearly two million annual visitors to explore Como, to the cutting edge veterinary care for zoo moms like Alice, your contributions are preserving Como Park Zoo and Conservatory’s history and future. Thank you for supporting Como Friends and helping this Twin Cities treasure thrive!

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