Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, Minnesota

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Monday, December 31, 2012

Written by Anya Russom, Guest Services Assistant
When looking out over the Tiger Deck fence, it’s nearly impossible to remember exactly how the zoo looked on the morning of June 20th. What once appeared to us as unspeakable tragedy is now all but erased by the frozen creek and snow-covered grounds. December 20th marked the six month anniversary of the flood that devastated our community. Here at the zoo, we are reminded on a daily basis of the hardship felt this summer. I doubt that will change anytime soon. And yet, the days do get easier. We look to the future with optimism and hope, and we rejoice in the fact that though the road has been difficult, we have made serious progress.

One major project that we’ve completed since the flood is our new barnyard. This area was severely affected by the storm, the results of which were devastating. In the past six months, the area has all but regained and surpassed its former glory. With the addition of two Shetland sheep, three Babydoll sheep, a Pygora goat, two Pygmy goats, three Nubian Alpine goats, and one very lovable llama, the barnyard has come alive with new life. Aside from our new barnyard friends, we’ve also added in a chicken coop (painted by volunteers) and a duck pond (built by an Eagle Scout). While our chickens and peafowl will rule the roost over the winter, our Pekin ducks are due to move in for Spring.
Another development that has been an ongoing process over the past six months is the refurbishment of zoo grounds. Being that 2/3 of the zoo was consumed by flood waters, (some areas remained under water for several days) getting things back to normal has been a chore. Over the summer, we planted new sod grass in heavily damaged areas like the playground. Towards the end of the summer, we were able to make the path by our deer and wolf yards clear and usable.

An ongoing task that has already started and will continue to be worked on throughout the winter is the dredging of Kingsbury Creek. During the flood, 3 feet of sediment was washed down from over the waterfall, causing major blockage and filling. In order to naturalize its flow and minimize the possibility of future flooding, the creek is in the slow process of being cleared.

Here at the zoo, things are looking up. We’ve got all the support and hope in the world driving us forward, and we can’t wait to see what this next year will bring our way. Granted, some days are better than others. Grief and loss are experienced differently by every person whom they meet. The process of overcoming such obstacles is not a linear progression, and through the waves of sorrow and optimism, it is vital to realize that your own model for improvement can and will be different from your fellow sufferers. What’s important is to recognize that it’s perfectly appropriate to take things at one’s own pace, but also to defer to 4hopefulness and determination in times of struggle.


posted by Keely Johnson at

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Our Top Five Reasons why we Love Winter
Written by Anya Russom

There is no bad time of year to visit the zoo, but if you ask the staff, they’ll tell you that winter makes for one of the best, most personal experiences with both the animals and the natural landscape. Here are our top five reasons why we love winter zoo visits:

Number 5: A naturally quaint and picturesque landscape!

What better place to appreciate the beauty of winter than at the Lake Superior Zoo? Watch with wonder as snowflakes, dreamy and quiet, fall slowly down to earth. With glazed trees glistening and frosted stones sparkling, the zoo makes a perfect outing for families, lovers, and friends alike. And don’t worry: we take extra precaution to ensure that our pathways are as ice-free as possible!

Number 4: End of the season admissions rates!

As a special treat for all of our wonderful supporters who brave the cold to visit us this winter, we are extending our end of the year rates until the end of January, 2013! Enjoy all the benefits of the zoo at a discounted rate! Children’s rates (ages 3-12) will be $4, adults (ages 13-61) will be $8 and seniors (ages 62 and older) will be $7. Remember, this special will only last through the end of January, so be sure to visit soon!

Number 3: Sledding!

Did you know that the zoo has a natural sledding hill? We invite all of our patrons to bring in their favorite sleds and snowsuits and take the plunge! Every admission to the zoo allows for free, unlimited sledding on the hillside by our Animal Care Center! Be advised- the sledding hill is unstaffed by zoo personnel, so please slide at your own risk, and be mindful of other participants! (We are unable to provide sledding equipment)

Number 2: No crowds!

If you’ve visited us in the summer, you may have been frustrated by busy exhibits with limited viewing space. Winter time is exactly the opposite! Most days are very quiet and allow for extremely personal, one-on-one experiences with your favorite animals! Strollers are readily available, daily enrichments are scarcely attended, and exhibit windows are all but unoccupied, leaving you free to take your time and enjoy all that our zoo has to offer!

Number 1: The animals LOVE winter!

What other reason is there? The melted cats and droopy bears of summer transform into wildly lively and playful characters. Experience the thrill of being stalked by a snow leopard; hear the howl of our wolves as they chase and prowl; feel the exhilaration of being charged by a tiger. Even our lions like colder weather! The truth is, most of our large animals come from colder weather regions and are more active in cooler temperatures. Still, even the big guys sometimes get cold, and to help offset the chill, each large carnivore has a heated rock placed within their exhibit. In cases of extreme cold, indoor holdings are left open for the critters to soak up some warmth. In fact, the only animals that remain off exhibit during the winter are our red kangaroos. They like to play in snow, but only on their terms, so you’ll have to wait until temps hit 50 degrees.

There you have it! Five reasons why we wouldn’t choose any other season to visit the zoo! With a beautiful setting, lower admission rates, a lack of crowds, and active animals, what more can you ask for? The zoo is open from 10:00-4:00 daily (last admission is at 3:00PM), so break out those boots, hats, mittens, and scarves and come on down to the wildest place in Duluth!

posted by Keely Johnson at

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Giving Green
Written by Anya Russom

The Holidays are peculiar time of year. We are encouraged to spend time with our loved ones, invited to partake in holiday cheer, and expected to keep up (both physically and financially) with the ever burgeoning standards of the Hallowthankschristmukkah shopping season. Here at the zoo, we try to put our best foot forward and offer our friends, fans, and supporters the very best in animal-related gifting. That being said, it is also imperative to us that our merchandise falls in line with our mission as an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited facility. Luckily, we have a plethora of products and services that are both unique and earth-friendly.

If you’ve been through our gift shop, you may have come upon our Fair Trade wall. On it, you’ll find products from all around the world that geographically relate to our animals. As far as adult-aimed holiday gifts go, the Fair Trade wall is your golden ticket. Harry, the Snow Leopard, encourages you to buy a beautiful Snow Leopard Trust hand bag, centerpiece, or ornament. The Snow Leopard Trust is a non-profit organization intent on preserving natural populations of snow leopards and people native to their habitat. Georgie, the two-toed sloth, and Jeeps, the kinkajou, implore you to check out our one-of-a-kind, hand-carved tagua nut animal figures from ef*ivory. These figurines are made from all natural tagua nuts which have been deemed as an “elephant friendly” ivory substitute. Our two lionesses, Lily and Malkia, told us to tell you to take a look at jewelry from the Leakey Collection, and the scarves, bandanas, and coin purses from Global Mamas. Both companies seek to help villages of women in various African countries.

If you’re looking for something a little more personal, be sure to ask about Critter Creations. Many of our animals enjoy creating artwork. It serves as enrichment for them and creates exceptional pieces of art for us to share with you. In addition, we are also able to periodically take nose and paw prints of some of our large carnivores. This is typically only possible when the animals are anesthetized for medical purposes, so these pieces are only made about once a year per animal. Each piece is matted, framed, or on canvas and comes with the name of the animal written on the artwork. Supplies are limited and going fast, so if you’ve got a particular critter in mind, be sure to ask!

Another great option for a Lake Superior Zoo-themed gift is our ADOPT program. If someone you know has a special attachment to one of our animals, why not give them the gift of a symbolic adoption? Our ADOPT packages start at just $35, and all proceeds go to the benefit of the intended animal. This can include food, treats, toys, and more! For a list of ADOPT benefits, visit

We’re not all about material things here at the zoo, and we have several gift options that focus more on the experience. For starters, we are currently holding a Holiday Membership Drive through the end of December. This is the perfect chance to give the gift of unlimited zoo visits to your friends and loved ones! In addition to the usual year-round perks, each holiday membership (new or renewed, gift or personal) comes with a holiday perk pack filled with extra incentives (for a full list, visit! Does your intended recipient already have a membership? That’s ok! You can piggyback your gift onto their existing membership term and keep the zoo love flowing for years to come!

You might be asking yourself, “How do the animals spend the Holidays?” Well, aside from their typical daily care (and maybe an extra treat thrown in here or there), we have the annual tradition of our Wish Tree. Located in the Tiger’s Paw Gift Shop, the tree is filled with ornaments detailing each animal’s holiday wish. Be it boomer balls for the barnyard, puzzles for the parrots, tires for the carnivores, or even just a gift card to Super One, Menard’s, or Petco, each gift ensures that your favorite animal will have a very happy holiday season. The Wish Tree is active through the end of the year, so be sure to stop in and grab your ornament soon!

Ok, ok. We know it’s not all about us, and if you find yourself looking towards the bigger picture this Holiday season, we encourage you to embrace the following animal-related charities. Whether it’s a symbolic animal adoption, a tribute donation, or a handmade gift, each of these organizations feature products and services that suit both adults and children. As previously mentioned, the Snow Leopard Trust is an organization for the preservation of snow leopards and surrounding human populations. In addition to their amazing handmade crafts, the organization also encourages its supporters to make financial donations to their cause. Money donated goes towards the safety and tracking of wild snow leopards around Kyrgyzstan, India, China, Pakistan, and Mongola. To learn more about their efforts, visit Another organization that hits close to home is Bat Conservation International. This non-profit targets bat populations around the world and tackles major issues like the spread of White Nose Syndrome. Donating to their cause not only benefits bats throughout Asia and Africa, but also the ones right in your back yard. Your support of their research not only helps save the lives of millions of bats, it ensures the survival of local ecosystems as well. Visit for more details. If you’re looking for a broader spectrum, visit This organization (the Center for Ecosystem Survival) strives to protect habitats for both land and water-dwelling creatures. By adopting a portion of protected land, you can save thousands of different animal species. And we’re not talking about symbolic land, here. They really do buy the space and ensure its protection. Two other highly recommended resources include the Defenders of Wildlife ( and the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF (

One last tidbit before we wrap this up (wait for the pun). Let’s talk about how to give these gifts sustainably. Store bought paper is bright, shiny and fun, but it’s also incredibly wasteful. Some types can’t even be recycled. Here are a few hints on how to minimize holiday trash: Wrap with comic strips or newspaper. This is a tried and true method for re-using discarded newspaper. It’s guaranteed recyclable and interesting to look at. If you have old calendars or wallpaper, you can do the same. Let’s give those retired wares one last hoorah. For smaller items, try making a box from origami paper, calendar paper, or construction paper. Box diagrams are typically simple, bright, fun, and re-usable. Lastly, instead of bows and ribbon, trim your presents with natural decoration. Pick pinecones, branches, berries, twigs, or anything else that you can tie together. We know how many of you and yours appreciate the great outdoors, and it really does add that personal touch.

So, when you’re decking the halls and spreading cheer this holiday season, be sure to keep us (and our affiliates) in mind. Your financial contributions to both our organization and the others listed will undoubtedly the lives of those whom the gift benefits as well as make an amazing, one-of-a-kind gift to the recipient. Each of these gifts has the opportunity to plant the seeds of knowledge within its recipient’s subconscious. Maybe next year, they’ll be the one buying land in the rainforest and adopting a snow leopard. And one last note: be sure to wrap that present with love. After all, zoo gifts always look better when given green.

posted by Keely Johnson at

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Berlin's Bon Voyage
By Anya Russom
The news of Berlin’s move to Kansas City is undoubtedly a shock to our friends and supporters. We understand that this development is difficult, concerning and confusing. We know that you all love and cherish Berlin as a symbol of our community and our zoo, and we know that you want her back. Trust us; we do too. But we hope that you also understand that the decision to move Berlin is completely and totally in her best interest. And I’m not even talking about one interest here; we’ve got a whole bucket full of reasons, concerns, ethics, and morals that led us to what is a terribly heart-wrenching, yet completely sound decision. Let me break it down for you. The flood in June devastated our zoo. We are reminded of this on a daily basis, and the bottom line is: Polar Shores is uninhabitable.

During the flood, the Polar Shores building was filled with over 14 feet of standing water, not to mention the basement, which remained flooded for some time. The pumps do not work, and the electricity does not function. To put any living creature in that facility would mean a complete renovation of the building to restore its normal functions. That aside, Polar Shores was built to match standards set in the 1980s. As with all things, time and knowledge demand an upgrade, and though Polar Shores may seem like an ideal home for a polar bear, it actually needs quite a bit of work. As an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoo, we pride ourselves on upholding extremely strict guidelines in regards to animal care. Long story short- the building needs a major upgrade. It needs grass and salt water and a whole lot of other things that would require major renovation to ensure happy and healthy polar bears for years to come.

And while we’re on the subject of polar bears, let’s talk about SSP (species survival plan) recommendations. These are set in place by the AZA in order to preserve endangered animal populations around the world. At this point in time, polar bears are listed as vulnerable, and due to rapidly shrinking arctic ice sheets, they could become endangered sooner rather than later. Berlin is one of 65 polar bears in an AZA accredited institution, and one of 37 active participants in the polar bear SSP program. Around the country, there are beautiful, state of the art facilities (like Kansas City) that give animals the absolute best shot at successful reproduction. Berlin has been matched up with the Kansas City Zoo’s bear, Nikita, in hopes that the two will have cubs. Admittedly, the odds aren’t ideal. Berlin is 23 and reaching the end of her breeding years. But she’s not there yet. The veterinarian from Kansas City will be visiting her at Como next week to ensure that all is well, and we’re confident that it is. We all know she’s a sassy bear, and we hear that Nikita is quite the looker. Kansas City will provide Berlin with something that we can’t: a chance at love. But, in all seriousness, it is our mission as a zoo to be leaders in animal care and conservation. This means having to make tough decisions in regards to animals with which we spend the vast majority of our time. However, as hard as it is, we have to take our selfishness and our personal feelings and transform them into hope for our beloved animal friends. After all, they’re the only ones who can repopulate themselves. We’re just there to give our care, support, and a helping hand (like any good friend would).

So Berlin’s current home is in complete disarray. The building is internally devastated. She’s also got a shot at being a mom (who doesn’t want to see Berlin’s cubs??!) But here comes the real kicker: Polar Shores is officially within the flood plain of our zoo. What this means is, if we put Berlin back in her old exhibit, we are creating the possibility to put her in danger of another flood, and that is something that we will not do. Berlin is our family. She is our sister, our friend, and our colleague. We will not put her back into a facility that has the potential to cause her harm. She deserves better than that, and we intend to give it to her.

This is why the construction of Bear Territory is so important. The complex has the potential to bring Berlin (and maybe even a baby!) home. We have the ability, as a zoo, to regain our status as being a leader in polar bear care and conservation. We have the bear who can come home to us a hero. We know that Kansas City is really far away. We know it sounds like Berlin will never come back. The truth is, she might not. But even though she’s not currently in her home, Berlin has never for even one second left any one of our hearts. She will NEVER not be our bear, and as long as it’s in her best interest, we are going to do whatever is in our power to have her back with us again. So have faith in us and in Berlin. She’s got a big journey ahead of her, and she needs your support, your thoughts, your well wishes, and your love (as do we). We’ll be here rooting her on. We hope you will be, too.

posted by Keely Johnson at

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