State grants Como Zoo funding for luxury polar bear love nest

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Every once in a blue moon, politicians serve the public good. Accordingly, lightning struck at Minnesota State Legislature this past session. Granted, they went ahead and soaked Hennepin County taxpayers to the tune of $387 million in forthcoming sales levies so the Minnesota Twins can have a stadium they don’ t need. And the filthy rich University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus got $26.6 million in funding to expand the already thriving Carlson School of Management—along with $40 million to build yet another a biomedical sciences research building. However, at least some of the almost $1 billion bonding bill will come to the long overdue aid of St. Paul’s comparatively shoestring operation, Como Zoo.

An infusion of $9 million will improve the cramped quarters where gorillas are on display and finally do something about the conditions under which the zoo’s two polar bears miserably subsist (without belaboring particulars, suffice to say it is not an endearing sight and let it go at that). This is not to knock Como Zoo or in any way accuse the operation of being, as it were, slumlords. One reasonably trusts zoo administrators have done the best they can by all the animals. Without the kind of deep pockets that finance, say, a luxury venue like the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley (which made out like a bandit, copping some $15 million from the bonding bill for enhancements). Importantly, it’s about going on from here and being grateful that things at the little zoo could well be getting better.

Como Zoo is an invaluable community resource. For just two bucks (a dollar for kids), regular, everyday, run of the mill folk scuffling to get by have the chance to enjoy a nice time—with free parking, in this day and age of parking ramp extortion. Actually, the admission price is a suggested donation, which means if you’re too poor to pay attention, but still need to show your kids a nice time, you can get in. And take the day in, appreciating the gorillas and polar bears, giraffes, seals, tigers and so forth. Which means a great deal, for instance, to the mom and/or dad who want to give little ones a better educational experience than is available on the block. Especially in summer, when kids have nothing but free time—and, in too many neighborhoods, that free time affords exposure to the sort of street education parents would just as soon see their children do without. No, they can’t spend every day there, but between Como Zoo, the public library and community centers, the determinedly resourceful grown-up gets a godsend in safeguarding the young. And, of course, it’s simply a nice break, period, for any family looking for a way to help make entertainment ends meet.

So, the $9 million is being put to pretty good public use. It won’t hurt the animals one bit, either. The gorillas’ new digs will be four times bigger than their present environment. The section that’s outdoors also is in for marked improvement. It’ll have heating features, so they warm up out in the snow and, obviously, spend that much more time roaming around, instead of being cooped up inside. Not a small consideration when you bear in mind that we’re talking keeping 500-pound, muscle-bound beasts from getting on each other’s nerves. For good measure, thanks to additional space, females can be brought in. Killing two birds with one stone, you further curtail male frustration and have gorilla families, complete with cute little rascals running around loose. As for the polar bears, they’ll be living a lot larger. To begin with, there’ll be eight times more space. And a new, improved water system. The underwater viewing area stays intact, added to which the bears will have a salt water system by which fabricated streams are stocked with prey so they can go fishing. As with the gorillas, the plan is to take part of the new space and set it aside for a female. With, imaginably, cubs to follow.

The bear exhibit is projected to take the next three to four years to complete. No word, just yet, as to how long the gorillas have to wait. Point being, though, relief for these creatures—and markedly improved visitor viewing—are on the way. There are no announced plans for, say, flat-screen TVs or surround-sound stereo systems, but you take what you can get. And be damned good and glad that, for once, the fat cats at the state capitol saw their way clear to do something worthwhile for John and Jane Q. Public. Not to mention their kids.

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