Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, Minnesota

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

written by Holly Henry

One of the greatest joys of working at a zoo is, of course, the privilege of working with animals.

Naturally our highly trained animal care team gets to do this on more of regular basis than the rest of us. Nevertheless, staff members from all departments get to know the many animals that have been entrusted to us here at the Lake Superior Zoo.

Our beloved brown bear appears to love anyone in a navy shirt and khaki pants, often getting up from his slumber to walk to the front of his exhibit to greet us. While a thinking person would assume that he’s conditioned to respond to anyone in a zoo uniform who might have something tasty for him, I prefer to think he just likes us.

While it’s profoundly easy to love a big furry bear (from a distance of course), you’d be surprised at how many of our staff members have a fondness for not-so-snuggly creatures such as snakes and lizards. Then are those who have bonded with barnyard critters, befriended ferrets and fallen in love with the lions.

My personal buddy at the zoo is Korbel, a 38-year-old double yellow-headed Amazon parrot. I started visiting Korbel’s exhibit shortly after starting at the zoo about a year ago. Because Korbel can talk, I was delighted with her excited “HI!!!” every time I walked in the room. Eventually, with the help of zoo keepers and our docent trainer I was able to hold her.

Parrots are unusual creatures, in that they tend to “pick” their people. They either like you or they bite you. Korbel picked me as one of her chosen few.

Today she spends a bit of time most days on my desk on the parrot playground she gave me for my birthday (though I suspect the zoo keepers had something to do with its purchase.) Korbel has also started to develop a relationship with my office-mate Keely, who has taught her to dance and make new and unusual noises. She will now “allow” Keely to carry her into our office. It’s pretty clear that Korbel is using her as transportation to get to me, but both of them seem to enjoy their little game nonetheless.

While Korbel’s visits to our office are excellent enrichment for her, they also enrich our lives and remind us why we do the work we do. We are, first and foremost, regardless of our roles here, caretakers of these incredible animals. Be sure to tell us about YOUR favorite Lake Superior Zoo animal by emailing us at

posted by Keely Johnson at

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