Duluth~Superior has some excellent animal life. Even in the dead of winter, Canal Park is rich with rabbits and crows—just try walking down the boardwalk at sunrise. When the snow starts to melt, the wildlife gets even more abundant. Deer pop out from the trees, birds take to the skies, and who can forget the occasional bear ambling through their backyard? And that’s not to mention all the pets in the area, from goldfish to Calico cats to scampering black lab puppies.
But for truly exotic animals, you’ve got to look elsewhere. Fortunately, the tireless employees and volunteers at not one, but two great venues work nearly around the clock to make sure we’ve got animals to see. The Lake Superior Zoo covers land and sky. From the Siberian tiger and snow leopard in the Asian Caravan to the tamarin and lemurs of the Primate Conservation Center, you’ll get a taste of the wild that’s hard to forget. For the water, look no further than the Great Lakes Aquarium. Here’s the latest on both of these animal destinations.
Lake Superior Zoo
7210 Fremont Street, Duluth
(218)730-4500 • www.lszoo.org
When the Lake Superior Zoo opened in 1923, the very first resident was a white-tailed deer named Billy. In the meantime, the zoo has grown into a home for hundreds of animals, including lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). While the zoo lost its accreditation in 2006, they swung into action improving the place. Five years later, the American Zoological Association restored the honor.
“It seemed like a terrible thing at the time,” marketing director Holly Henry says. “But it was really the best thing that could have happened to us because it forced us to address all the issues.”
The zoo’s beautiful property is more than 16 acres, with stately pine trees and an attractive creek making it one of the prettiest zoos around. But the real entertainment comes from the animals, each with its own personality. Trouble, the aptly named brown bear, used to break into the Anchorage Zoo looking for snacks. Max, the cougar, was seriously chubby when he came to the zoo and had to be put on a diet. And then there are the migrating geese, who freely wander around the yard and occasionally give guests the chance to observe a little natural selection.
“Two geese landed in the tiger’s exhibit,” Henry says. “So he ate them. He thought it was just a great enrichment.”
Looking for some enrichment of your own? Check out one of the classes or educational programs. Summer camps for kids feature hands-on educational opportunities, crafts, games, and tours, while the zoo crew program teaches teenagers what it’s like to care for animals for a living.
Great Lakes Aquarium
353 Harbor Drive, Duluth
(218)740-3474 • www.glaquarium.org
The Great Lakes Aquarium is more than just a bunch of fish tanks. With five staff members and several volunteers involved in educational programs, they’re a liaison between the science world and the broader community. Sarah Erickson, the director of education at the GLA, says her staff deals with between 300 and 400 groups of school kids every year. What does the director say about the total number of kids reached? It’s over 9,000!
“That’s anyone from toddlers and preschool aged kids all the way up through high school and college,” Erickson says. “So we do a huge diversity of programming.”
That might be an understatement. During the summer, preschool and kindergarten aged kids line up for sessions some children refer to as “aquarium school”. They get to touch the water, play, and learn facts about the animals to take home to their families. Older kids get a chance to go to day camp, where they can take part in behind-the-scenes work like feeding, cleaning, and meal prep.
But it’s during the school year where the programs really get underway. Professional development classes for teachers show them how to make science fun, outreach programs show college students how to go out into the community and teach younger students, and others come to the aquarium itself for a field trip experience. Plus, the aquarium offers both structured classes and unstructured free roaming time for adults. Erickson says that learning about the ecology of this area is something for all ages.
“We think of the aquarium as this place for children,” Erickson says. “I think that there are opportunities for all people, just as curious humans, to learn something here.”