Como gorillas enjoying new home


Como Zoo now has 3 male adolescent gorillas and one family gorilla group on display. The males and the family group are kept separate from each other in different zoo enclosures.

Families viewed the new outdoor exhibit area where the three bachelor males adjusted to the new outdoor area. (photos by Linda E. Andersen/Review)

The new Gorilla Forest enclosure opened June 6 at Como Zoo.

The new Como Zoo Gorilla Forest exhibit features an outdoor window viewing area where the gorillas can be seen up close.

Public will have greatly improved look at majestic animals

It’s likely going to be a very exciting and busy summer at Como Zoo thanks in no small part to the zoo’s newly opened Gorilla Forest exhibit.

The $11 million, 13,000 square-foot enclosure is home to seven gorillas, six of whom are new to Como.

Matt Reinartz, Como’s marketing and public relations manager, notes the new exhibit is nearly three times larger than the previous gorilla habitat.

During the design phase, Reinartz says, staff made an effort to make sure the zoo’s visitors would have an outstanding look at the animals. But just as importantly, he adds, staff wanted to give the gorillas a place where they could have plenty of room to roam and play, and just generally live more comfortably.

Gorilla Forest, which opened on June 6, has become a must-see exhibit for most zoo-goers, Reinartz notes.

“It’s been a good, healthy crowd,” he says.

Five years in the making

Reinartz explains planning for Gorilla Forest began in 2008 with the goal of making the exhibit state of the art for the animals and visitors. The exhibit’s future came into clear focus when the Minnesota Legislature included the necessary $11 million in the 2010 bonding bill.

During discussions about Gorilla Forest it became clear that one of Como’s popular bachelor gorillas, Schroeder and Togo, would not be part of the exhibit’s future.

Allison Jungheim, a senior zookeeper at Como, explains that both Schroeder and Togo were prime breeding candidates and for conservation reasons one would leave Como to be placed with females in the hopes of producing offspring.

It was ultimately Schroeder who stayed and Togo who went to the Oklahoma City Zoo.

Jungheim notes the old gorilla exhibit forced visitors to look down at the animals, something the gorillas naturally dislike. However, Gorilla Forest allows the animals to be above, or on the same level as, visitors.

“It’s a lot better for them,” Jungheim adds. “The gorillas now have the advantage.”

Reinartz also explains Gorilla Forest will allow the public to see the animals from a number of different angles and in places where the gorillas aren’t looking down at people; they’re generally at eye-level.

“Now you walk up and you can’t help but be awed,” Reinartz says.

The greenery, rock and other natural elements have also increased the gorillas’ quality of life.

“They love the trees in the enclosure,” Reinartz says, adding some of the gorillas have even taken to taking a bite or two out of the trees.

Both Reinartz and Jungheim note the two gorilla groups seem to know the other is nearby but so far both groups have taken on a “live and let live” mentality.

New bachelors

After saying goodbye to Togo, Como was able to welcome a group of three new bachelor brothers -- Jabir, Samson and Virgil. The 13-year-old brothers grew up together at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan.

Reinartz explains the three brothers will have their own area in Gorilla Forest and are currently deciding which of the three will be the dominant animal. In Kansas, another brother, who stayed behind, was clearly the boss.

Reinartz says the three brothers aren’t taking their battle for dominance too seriously.

“It’s more of a show,” he says.

“The three boys are figuring it out,” Jungheim adds.

A baby in the future?

Schroeder, 27, is now sharing part of Gorilla Forest with three females. Nine-year-old Alice is from Miami, Fla., 8-year-old Dara is from Toledo, Ohio, and 25-year-old Nne (pronounced Eenie) comes from Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s not uncommon for gorillas in zoos to live for 50 years.

“The family is still getting to know each other,” Jungheim says, adding that the three females are currently on birth control but at some point in the coming months one or more might be taken off medication in the hopes of breeding with Schroeder.

Jungheim explains if a younster does eventually arrive on the scene it would likely be at Como during the period maternal care is needed, generally a few years.

Como Zoo is located at 1225 Estabrook Drive in St. Paul. The zoo is open this summer from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Admission is free but a voluntary donation of $3 per adult and $2 per child is recommended. For more information visit www.comozooconservatory.org or call 651-487-8200.

George Fairbanks can be reached at gfairbanks@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813.

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