In 1897, the City of Saint Paul fenced-in a pasture in Como Park to hold three deer gifted to them, thus beginning Como Zoo. Thirty-some years later the first major construction project was federally funded through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The 1930s’ WPA projects included the bear grotto, Monkey Island, the barn and the Main Zoo building.

By 1900, visitors could see deer, elk, foxes, and two “Cebu” cattle. Visitors driving in their automobiles to the park in 1915 could see two buffalo, a gift from Lieutenant Governor Thomas Frankson, who had his own private “buffalo pasture” in a hollow near the park. In 1926, a local citizen gave an American Black Bear to the Zoo. Since such an animal could not be kept in a fenced pasture, a cage was built from some old iron archways which had been standing in the park. These were covered with a strong wire mesh, making a structure with a distinctive rounded top. This shape characterized Como Zoo cages for years.

The first major construction at Como Zoo was in the 1930s. Federally funded works Progress Administration projects included the Beat Grotto, Monkey Island, Barn, and Main Zoo Building. The Main Zoological Building was completed in 1937 and used to house the majority of animals at Como. The area around the Zoo was paved.

In 1956 Archie Brand brought his famous Seal Show to Como Zoo and soon after the animal collection expanded to include valuable and endangered species, including gorillas, orangutans & Siberian tigers.

The First Director of Como Zoo, John A. Fletcher, arrived in 1957. There were six Zoo employees at the time and the yearly budget was $30,000. Under Mr. Fletcher’s management the animal collection was greatly expanded to include valuable and endangered species of animals, such as Siberian tigers, gorillas, and orangutans. Como Zoo was one of the first in the nation to engage in breeding loans of great apes to other zoos so that reproduction of these species could be improved. Como was also the first zoo in North America (and possibly the world) to successfully hand raise Siberian tigers.

In 1976 the Minnesota State Legislature approved a Master Plan and $8.5 million in funding for Como Zoo. This paved way for major renovations in the 1980s on the Large Cat Exhibit, the Aquatic Animal Building (including Seal Island, formally known as Monkey Island), the Primate Facility, the African Hoofstock Facility and the Land & Water Bird Exhibit.

The Aquatic Animal Building opened to the public in the fall of 1982. This exhibit is especially important in the view of Federal regulations and laws concerning acquisition, care and keeping of marine animals, which include Como’s Polar Bears, harbor seals and sea lions. The building includes exhibits for penguins, sea puffins, and freshwater fish. Another renovation that occurred in the 1980s was the transformation of Monkey Island to Seal Island. The Sparky the Sea Lion, which began in 1956, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006.

In 1997, Como Zoo celebrated its 100 year anniversary.

In June of 2001, an operant conditioning program began for the seals and sea lions. The program focused on building a trusting relationship between trainers and animals and on training husbandry behaviors such as physical examinations and tooth brushing, as well as behaviors that highlight the animals natural strength and flexibility. With the success of the training program in Aquatics, operant conditioning training programs were implemented throughout the zoo, including primates, polar bears, wolves, giraffes, cats, Galapagos Tortoises, and sloths.

In 2010 we celebrate the addition of the state of the art, world class habitat Polar Odyssey. This world-class exhibit places bears in a natural environment that offers dramatically more land space and a multitude of opportunities for the bears to exhibit natural behaviors such as digging, swimming, foraging and hunting. Visitors delight in up-close and personal views of the world’s largest land predator. This year-round habitat offers a climate controlled “Outpost” to experience the bears all four seasons and wonderful open air views that will bring the polar bears as close as twenty feet.

In June 2013, Gorilla Forest opened, this $11 million exhibit redesign and overhaul features seven gorillas, six of whom are new to Como Zoo, and the largest all-mesh gorilla enclosure in North America. The 13,000 square foot outdoor space, almost three times larger than the previous space, was designed to give the gorillas ample room to play, climb, forage and display their extraordinary family and social dynamics to the public while minimizing stress on the gorillas and creating up close and personal views of the gorillas for visitors.

In 2015, Como Zoo will open a state of the art Giraffe feeding station giving visitors an opportunity to get even closer to these gentle giants.

Como Zoo is home to 9 of the 10 animal species visitors most want to see, and in habitats that allow visitors to observe them at close proximity.