Como Zoo Releases One of North America’s Most Critically Endangered Amphibians Back into the Wild

July 9th, 2017

A toad’ally awesome thing is happened at Como Zoo. As part of Como Zoo’s behind-the-scenes species preservation efforts, over 1,175 Wyoming Toad tadpoles were placed in oxygenated water, shipped overnight and were released near the Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge outside Laramie, Wyoming. This 1.5 ounce toad is classified as one of the four critically endangered amphibians found in North America and one of the rarest in the world.

Native to the Laramie Basin in Wyoming, this toad was placed on the endangered species list in 1984, and was feared to be extinct. Researchers located the last surviving toads near Lake Mortenson in the late eighties, and by 1996 began an aggressive species preservation plan to save the toad. Como Zoo has joined forces with eight other zoos as a partner in a captive breeding program that now reintroduces Wyoming tadpoles and toads to the wild every year.

As part of the project, Como received adult Wyoming toads that now live in a specially retrofitted room in Como’s Animal Support Building. “The Wyoming toads play an important part in Como’s mission. Since these projects usually go on behind the scenes, people are often surprised to hear how involved Como Zoo is in species preservation,” says Michelle Furrer, Como Campus Director. “But Como Zoo, along with many other zoos, are always striving to make a difference in conservation.’’

To be eligible to participate in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) each institution must meet certain criteria. The four criteria relevant to preventive medicine husbandry and space allotment include the following:

1) Candidate must isolate Wyoming toads from other amphibians in the collection through designated biosecure housing and quarantine.
2) Candidate must commit space for at least four age cohorts totaling 20-40 toads, breeding transfers and pre-release tadpole holding.
3) Candidate must receive USFWS Endangered Species permit to acquire the federally listed toad prior to participation in the SSP.
4) Candidate must comply with the service and SSP guidelines for the recovery program.

A Como zookeeper will be traveling to Laramie WY for a week of hands-on field research. She will also meet with 10 other institutions at the annual Species Protection Plan meeting for the Wyoming toad to discuss the husbandry and goals of the recovery team for the survival of the species.

It’s a privilege for an institution to be able to participate in species recovery efforts. It comes with much responsibility, and often an additional investment in resources including additional staff and/or construction of biosecure facilities. A generous grant from the Frog Crossing Foundation allowed Como Friends, the nonprofit partner of Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, to provide the retrofitting necessary to give Como Zoo’s new Wyoming toads the optimal environmental controls, a hibernation chamber critical to stimulate the toads’ reproductive cycle, and additional AZA staff training to help ensure the success of this species preservation project.


Como Spotlight: Zookeeper Lauren, Marine Animal Keeper

May 30th, 2017

What is your job title at Como and how long have you been in this role?

I have been a Marine Animal Zookeeper at Como Zoo for two years and have worked in animal care roles at zoos and aquariums for the past five years. At Como Zoo I work with a team of zookeepers who care for the harbor seals, California sea lions, polar bears, penguins and puffins.

What has been the most rewarding part of being in these roles?

The most rewarding part of working in animal care for a zoo or aquarium is providing the best care for the animals that call Como Zoo “home”. As zookeepers we are constantly working on new ways to enrich the lives of the animals in our care. We confer with colleagues at other zoos and aquariums and attend workshops and conferences to keep current on the best practices of animal care. Most of us were inspired to pursue a career in animal care because we love the animals we work with and want to help preserve them in the wild. It is a very competitive field and many of us have worked long and hard obtaining relevant degrees, volunteering and interning to secure a zookeeping job.

Why are these roles so important?

Zookeepers are on the front line of providing the best care for the animals that visitors connect with at a zoo or aquarium. Through advanced positive reinforcement training techniques we are able to monitor the health and wellbeing of our animals very closely. From training a sea lion to participate in a voluntary ultrasound to training a polar bear to present a paw for a voluntary blood draw- all of these things add up to provide our animals with the best care possible.

While zookeepers provide the day to day animal care, there are many other jobs filled by talented passionate people that move our organization forward.  It is through all of us working together that we are able to accomplish Como Zoo’s mission of inspiring the public to value to presence of living things in our lives.

Tell us a little bit about the African penguins at Como Zoo and their wild counterparts.

Here at Como Zoo we are home to a colony of 10 African penguins. They all have unique personalities! Two of our African penguins are Animal Ambassadors and visit educational programs to connect with our visitors. This is not only a fun experience for our guests but an enriching experience for the penguins as well!

As with all of our animals, African penguins here at Como Zoo are ambassadors to their species in the wild. African penguins in the wild are experiencing a steep decline and are listed as endangered by the ICUN and the US Endangered Species Act. It is estimated that they could be extinct in as little as 15 years. Major threats to their survival include pressures from overfishing, fish populations moving further from land due to changes in the ocean temperatures, and oil spills to name a few. The good news is that there are a number of organizations working to help save African penguins from extinction.

How is Como Zoo working to support organizations that help African penguins in the wild?

This year Como Zoo introduced a new initiative called Conservation Champions supported by grants from Como Friends. This program gives staff members the opportunity to share their ideas about how Como Zoo can contribute to conservation efforts. It is a great program because so many of the staff who work here are very passionate about conservation!   Through the Conservation Champions initiative, Como Zoo is contributing funding to a research project in South Africa that is part of the AZA SAFE program. Como Zoo is also sending another zookeeper, Kelley, to South Africa in the fall of 2017 to participate in a keeper exchange with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). Stay tuned to hear more about her trip later this year!

Can you describe the AZA SAFE program?

First I should explain that AZA stands for Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Como Zoo has been a member since 1990. The AZA has rigorous standards that zoos and aquariums are held to for the well-being of animals and humans. Additionally they provide professional development opportunities, oversee animal management programs and lead conservation initiatives such as their SAFE program.

SAFE stands for Saving Animals From Extinction and was created to connect zoos and aquariums, researchers, non-governmental organizations, and government organizations under one common goal: saving species!  Using a “One Plan” approach for 10 key species, they have a developed Conservation Action Plan to identify the most pressing needs to save a species from extinction. It’s a really great program because it brings together everyone’s strengths to make the biggest impact for animals in the wild. Zoos and aquariums play a large role in this process as AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have over 180 million visitors each year! Como Zoo alone had almost 2 million visitors last year!

What is SANCCOB and what is Como Zoo doing to support them?

The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) is a seabird rehabilitation facility with three locations in South Africa. They take in all types injured and abandoned seabirds and rehabilitate them for eventual release in the wild. African penguins make up approximately 25% of their patients. They are also the primary response team in the event of an oil spill. An independent research study concluded that through their rehabilitation efforts they are responsible for 19% of the current population. That’s almost 1 in 5 African penguins alive today!

Como Zoo is able to join a large group of zoos and aquariums in supporting SANCCOB through a financial donation and staff support. Another Marine Animal Zookeeper, Kelley, is traveling to South to assist SANCCOB during their busiest season this fall. These efforts were made possible by donations from the community to our support organization, Como Friends.

Anything else you would like to add?

For more information follow Como Zoo on Facebook and check out the links below!

Como Friends



AZA’s “Invest in the Nest” Kickstarter Campaign


First of its Kind Kickstarter Campaign Launched to Help Save Endangered African Penguins

May 25th, 2017

African penguin populations have been declining for the past few decades. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), is joining with the AZA and other accredited aquariums and zoos to take action and help reverse this trend. They are launching the “Invest In The Nest” campaign on Kickstarter, the innovative crowdfunding platform. The campaign seeks to raise $150,000 to help build and place 1,500 artificial nests for African penguins in South Africa and Namibia.

“Our  penguin animal care professionals provide expert care to our birds every day, and we’re applying that expertise directly to help these wild colonies,” says Senior Keeper Jo Kelly. “The “Invest in the Nest” Kickstarter campaign is a great way for the public to join us in helping save African penguins in the wild.”

Also, Como is supporting the SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction®, a program that brings together the expertise and resources of AZA, its members, and partners to help save species from extinction. Establishing new artificial nests is a priority identified in the AZA SAFE African penguin conservation action plan, and necessary to help save African penguins.

“We’re always excited about campaigns that expand our worldview and actively contribute to innovation around the globe. Invest In The Nest is pushing boundaries in the practice of conservation and bringing optimism and direct action to the Kickstarter backer community,” says Clarissa Redwine, Kickstarter’s Design and Technology Outreach Lead for the West Coast.  “This conservation effort takes backers through the process of designing, building, and installing habitat structures that will help save endangered African penguins, helping Kickstarter backers play a vital part in protecting wildlife.”

Supporters of the campaign won’t go away empty-handed. A variety of rewards is available for backing the Kickstarter campaign, including exclusive behind-the-scenes opportunities at some of the best aquariums and zoos in the country, as well as original penguin art, symbolic penguin adoption kits, t-shirts, totes, posters and more.

“AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos believe we should do more to help save species, which is why we started SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “We brought together scientists and engineers to help us design the best nest for African penguins. Now we need the public’s help to build and place the nests in South Africa. Invest In The Nest is an opportunity for anyone to help save a species!”

If fully funded, the nests will be constructed by hand in South Africa, helping to create jobs for residents.

To back or follow the campaign, visit the “Invest In The Nest” campaign page on Kickstarter.

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

About SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction®

SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and partners to save animals from extinction. Together we are working on saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. To learn more, visit

Photo by Jordana Torgeson Photography


YEP Update: February

February 4th, 2017

The YEP youth are knee-deep in their community conservation projects!  Topics include improving recycling programs, the impacts of therapeutic horticulture, addressing urban runoff and increasing the amount of time youth spend outside – especially in the winter.  This month we took some time to connect with each other, connect with our projects, connect with nature, and… connect with Skeeter. 

Zookeeper Jill introduced us to the gentle giants of Como and shared the work Giraffe Conservation Foundation does to preserve critical giraffe habitat. 

Did you know, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s Khomas Environmental Education Programme (KEEP) focuses on reconnecting youth in Namibia with nature?  World-wide, it is recognized that time outside plays a critical role in the growth and development of young people – and adults.   In 2010, the University of Rochester released the results of five different experiments that showed how spending time in nature can improve a person’s well-being.  For a deeper read on this topic, check out Richard Louv’s book; Last Child in the Woods. With this in mind, we ventured outside, exploring Como Regional Park.

We also took a few minutes to watch the video produce by YEP’s team from Urban Roots.  Their conservation project centers on encouraging young people to get outside and explore all that winter has to offer.  Urban Roots, along with St. Paul Parks and Recreation, Wilderness Inquiry, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and many other organizations will be hosting the 2017 Phalen Freeze Fest from 2:00 – 6:00 on Saturday, February 11.  Participants can try their hand at snowshoeing, cooking over fire, ice fishing, and building a snow cave.  Great, winter-themed prizes are available too!  You won’t want to miss Urban Root’s performance of the Legend of Shingebiss!  Tie your boots, zip your parka, and tell your friends to join you at Freeze Fest!


Make A Difference With Your Valentine’s Day Chocolates

February 2nd, 2017

The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is proud to partner with Seroogy’s to support the AZA’s groundbreaking conservation initiative, SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. Como is home to one of the first SAFE focus species: the African Penguin.  A portion of every sale of the SAFE chocolate gift box will support African penguin conservation.

This SAFE gift box features a special 1 oz. milk chocolate card promoting SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction), along with an assortment of Seroogy’s popular homemade chocolates. The gift box includes caramels, meltaways, nut clusters, truffles, creams and coconut clusters, packaged in a gold gift box with a clear cover. Click here to learn more about SAFE, the collective expertise and focus of 232 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to save species.

Click here to purchase a SAFE chocolate gift box

Get FREE SHIPPING with your purchase when you enter promo code SAFE17

This product is palm oil free.