Your support for Como Friends in 2021 helped Como fulfill its mission every day, inspiring visitors with the wonders of the natural world.
“I cannot tell you how much Como Zoo has meant to me. Having a free family-friendly place in the middle of Saint Paul where families can go and learn and feel safe is the most precious resource that I can think of. My life and the lives of so many others have been so strongly impacted and improved by this resource and I cannot thank you enough. I feel so proud to have Como Zoo in my community… I don’t know of any other space quite like this one. I want you to know that I do not take for granted the exceptional work that you all do. I am having friends visit me from out of state and this is the very first stop on the list because it is the happiest and most amazing place I could think of. Thank you so so much for all you have given to so many and to this community!”
—Ryan, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory visitor
Exploring Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is an adventure for Minnesotans of every age, often providing the first place to see a polar bear or a palm tree. For many Como visitors in 2021, their experience at Como was more meaningful than ever.
“If anything, I think this year showed just how important it is to have a place like Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in our community,” says Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends. “During a year that continued to have a lot of challenges, Como was a constant. It provided a place where people could return to familiar traditions such as enjoying a flower show in the Sunken Garden or visiting a favorite animal at the zoo. Como is a place where people could come together and revisit those old memories while making new ones. We heard again and again how grateful visitors were that Como was able to keep its doors open, and how good it felt for people to be able to gather at Como again, and to connect with Como in new ways.” Here’s a look at how your contributions to Como Friends made it possible.
While the second year of the pandemic postponed many Minnesotans’ best-laid plans, it couldn’t keep Sparky the sea lion and her friends from moving into their splashy new home at Como Harbor. The $21 million seals and sea lions habitat opened to the public in spring, welcoming three different species of pinnipeds–California sea lions Subee, CeCe, Poppy and Niko, harbor seals Kash and Kilian, and Atlantic gray seals Stanley and Wallace. Made possible with private contributions to Como Friends and funding from the Minnesota State Legislature, Como Harbor earned rave reviews from the public. “Visitors were really impressed by the scale and the vision of Como Harbor, and the opportunity to see these amazing animals swim underwater and make the most of their larger pools,” says Sticha.
Meanwhile, Como Zoo continued to make progress in the Aquatic Animals Building, refreshing the outdated flooring and lighting, moving the fish tanks and making way for new micro-habitats visitors will experience in the months ahead. With new features that will highlight the conservation challenges posed by lionfish, behind-the-scenes opportunities to see Como’s amphibian rescue projects, and even a giant Pacific octopus, Sticha says, “visitors are about to experience new, more immersive habitats and better viewing opportunities than we’ve ever had in the Aquatic Animals Building before.”
What do you do when kids can’t get to Como? In 2021, Como’s education department created “Como Connections,” a cool new virtual curriculum that’s been bringing the fun of a Como field trip to classrooms around the state and to kids studying at home. Your support for Como Friends made it possible for Como’s education professionals to create an exciting new online video curriculum that’s been giving young students from around the state close-up encounters with Como’s animals, plants and favorite people. “One of the silver linings of the last year has been seeing the creativity and innovation of Como’s education specialists, hosting and producing videos, building interactive content, and finding ways to help teachers and parents around the state connect with great conservation curriculum for their kids,” says Sticha. Como education specialist Ashley Verdeck, the host of the Como Connections series, has even become a break-out star—among the state’s second-graders—inspiring a fun summer spin-off series on YouTube titled “Adventures with Ashley.”
ESSENTIAL CARE OF ANIMALS AND PLANTS
From annual flu shots for Como Zoo’s orangutans, to foot surgery for a 16-foot-tall giraffe, to the fantastic gardens that greeted summer visitors at Como’s front door, your contributions to Como Friends helped to support the extraordinary care of animals and gardens all year long. While reservation-only visits continued in 2021 to promote social distancing and safe gathering for visitors, behind the scenes, the essential work of caring for animals, cultivating gardens, and maintaining Como’s historic campus never ceased.
“Even though Como’s audience numbers were smaller than usual, the everyday operational demands of keeping Como thriving continued,” says Sticha, who notes that Como Friends increased its contribution for Como’s annual operations in 2021 to ensure steady, stable support for animal and plant care. Como Friends’ support also helped provide the extra resources the historic zoo and conservatory needed to continue with traditions like the five annual flower shows in the Sunken Garden, and to respond to critical needs, including two headline-making medical procedures to help repair a broken bone in Skeeter the giraffe’s hoof. “Como Friends supporters care about ensuring the continuity of great animal and plant care, and this year, that was a major focus of our work,” Sticha says. At the same time, Como Friends’ support helped to preserve the free admission that thousands of visitors depend on.
“It says a lot about Como’s value to the community that Como Friends has been able to count on so many long-time supporters as well as brand new donors to make sure Como stays strong,” says Sticha. “A sincere thank you to every supporter for your generosity in 2021. Together we provided Como the extra care it needed to ensure the zoo and conservatory are thriving for years to come.”