Category Archives: Philanthropy

The Como Zoo Welcomes a New Member


(Image via

On February 22nd, a Western Lowland Gorilla named Dara gave birth to her first child, a beautiful baby girl, Arlene. She was named after the late Arlene Schenemann, a longtime zoo volunteer. The healthy baby was born weighing 5 pounds, and while nursing was a bit of a concern for this first time mother, Dara is now taken up the role of mother wonderfully. The Como Zoo continues to monitor the gorillas to ensure that the baby is fed regularly.

The Western Lowland Gorilla is the smallest of the two subspecies of Western Gorilla. But don’t let that fact fool you; males standing erect can be up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 600 pounds! However, little Arlene will probably only get to around 5 feet tall and weigh half as much as her male counterparts. For now, she’ll be carried around by her mother and Dara will continue to carry her until she’s about is 2 or 3. Childhood will last until she is 6 or 7 years old and she’ll reach sexual maturity around 8 years old. In the wild, these Gorillas live to be around 35 years old. Females usually remain with their family group for the duration of their lives and cultivate strong familial relationships within their group.

Her birth is a great step for the species, who have been in decline for decades due to human development encroaching on their range, illegal poaching for bushmeat and ebola. At this point, the Western Lowland Gorilla is listed by the WWF** as critically endangered.

Arlene and Dara will make their first public appearance in late March, so make sure you get out and say hi!



Bengal Tiger Population Rebounds


(Image via

Amazing news to uplift the new year:  the population of wild Bengal tigers has increased 30% from 2001 to 2014; a census found 2,226 tigers in India last year compared with 1,706 in 2010. India is home to 70% of the world tiger population, so their numbers there spell out the future of the species. While this is being praised as a huge success, it’s important to remember that the future of all endangered species hinges on awareness.

In 1957 there were near 40,000 tigers in India, a far cry from the current population of 2,226. While conflicts with local villages and prey loss has not helped the species, their main threat for the past sixty years has been the illegal wildlife trade. From capturing and selling live tigers as status symbols, to the sale of skins and bones for furnishing or medicinal purposes, Bengal Tiger numbers have been dropping due to mankind’s interest in using them for one reason or another. Furthermore, as their numbers drop their body parts become more expensive and, unfortunately, poachers stand to profit more from the scarcity. This cycle must be stopped if we want Bengal Tigers to have a chance to bounce back to healthy numbers.

If you are interested in learning more or contributing to tiger conservation, look into World Wildlife Fund* and TRAFFIC** (wildlife trade monitoring network), where you can find places to donate or lend a helping hand.



About Sumatran Orangutans

tang(image via The Guardian)

I am deeply committed to the protection of and education about Sumatran Orangutans, and I wanted to take this time to tell you all a bit about them. “Orangutan” means “person of the forest”, derived from the Malay language. Sumatran orangutans, Pongo abelii, are a critically endangered species with approximately 7,300 individuals worldwide and they are native to the tropical and subtropical forests of Indonesia. While they once inhabited the entire island of Sumatra and parts of Java, Sumatran orangutan populations have been decimated by a number of threats including poaching and the illegal pet trade. They are now confined to the northern portion of Sumatra wherein they continue to play a vital role in the broadleaf forest ecosystem.

Zoos and wildlife refuges around the world are working to protect this amazing species, and Sumatran orangutans’ close relative the Bornean orangutans. You, too, can help protect orangutans! The World Wildlife Foundation has a “sponsor an orangutan” program and there are many companies that partner with conservation organizations (link to Orangutan Coffee post here). The easiest way to protect orangutans is through education: tell your friends and family about their endangered status, look for orangutan-safe products, and use social media to spread the conservation message.

Internet for Everybody (Yes, Everybody!)

Last year, Google launched Project Loon as a first step in their endeavor of global internet access for all. Only one-third of the world’s population is online, and the other two-thirds lack access due to remote location, socioeconomic status, or lost network access after a natural disaster or war. Project Loon is a series of balloons that float on the edge of space, in the stratosphere, that enable internet access for computers and LTE-enabled smartphones. Since the first launches in New Zealand, the Central Valley in California, and Northeast Brazil, the technology and procedures have been refined and readied for the next stages of the project.

Google’s new partnerships with telecommunications companies, improved balloon technology, and better understanding of stratospheric conditions are making the balloons a more feasible option for global internet access. In approximately one year, Google has made amazing technological advances like increased airtime for the balloons (now over 100 days), better Wi-Fi coverage for users, and shared cellular spectrum to bring access to phones.

Google’s next test flight will be in Australia in partnership with Australian carrier Telstra, and it will be the biggest test flight so far. Each balloon transmits for over 600 square miles, and if the right weather data is collected, they could be a solution for uneven global internet access in the near future. The 20 balloons that will be launched in Australia this December will tell us more about the future of a connected world, and how soon it will be a real possibility.


Jaya’s a big brother!

Earlier this month, Saint Paul’s Como Zoo announced the birth of a healthy female orangutan.  That makes Jaya an elder sibling!  If you don’t recall, Jaya was born at the Zoo in 2007 to a pair of Sumatran Orangutans named Markisa and Jambu.  He’s been counting birthdays ever since (I was lucky enough to help celebrate his sixth).  Now we’ll have the opportunity to watch him mature into the role of big brother.

orangsCredit:  Como Zoo

Looking back, Jaya’s birth was special because, among other reasons, it was only one of a few successful primate C-sections.  –There’s still just a dozen in recorded history.  However, when Markisa was selected to breed a second time, doctors knew that the infant would have to be similarly delivered.  At the time of this writing, mother and her baby have been reunited at Como and are bonding as expected.  Jaya was handed over to his mother’s care in record time, so there’s no doubt that Markisa can be an excellent caretaker.  Also, we can’t forget to recognize the world-class treatment these primates receive from their human counterparts at Como.

Markisa and the newborn will be reintroduced to Jaya, Jambu and friend Amanda after the two have had enough time to adjust.  While this may take some time, the growing family of orangutans is sure to light up smiles for years to come.


A growing family at the Como Zoo

It’s a girl!  Markisa, a 27-year-old Sumatran Orangutan, gave birth to a healthy and adorable infant at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center on January 7th, 2015.  The newborn was delivered via Caesarean section by a team of highly specialized veterinary and medical professionals.  C-sections are uncommon for orangutans.  Como Zoo primate keeper, Megan Elder, explained “that there are only about a dozen recorded within the International Orangutan Studbook that has tracked more than 1,200 births in captivity throughout history.”  Markisa is particularly important because she had undergone the operation successfully before.  After a short recovery, baby and mother have been reunited at Como Zoo and it’s safe to say that this birth marks the beginning of another promising story.

baby oCredit:  Splash News/Como Zoo

A healthy and growing orangutan family is a welcomed development for the species and primate lovers alike.  There are only around 200 orangutans living in US zoos and native populations are struggling against pressures like logging, agriculture and poaching.  The newborn’s birth furthers an Orangutan Species Survival Plan set forth by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).  The plan aims to maintain and ensure the health of orangutans living in zoos across the United States.

I’ve had the pleasure of supporting Como Zoo in the past, and now you can too!  Como has invited the public to help name the new addition through a donation-based vote.  My suggestion, Cinta, which means love in indonesian, has been selected as one of three possible names.  When the voting ends, the name with the highest dollar amount in donations will win—click here to vote for Cinta! Then, join St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman to hear the results at a fun-filled naming celebration on February 16th.  All are welcome!



An Amazing Story: Wildlife Rehabilitation Centeer

I am committed to spreading the word about the plight of endangered orangutans, so it brings me great joy to write about the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, right here in Minnesota. This nonprofit does more than treat orphaned and injured animals; the veterinary hospital located in Roseville also provides education for students interested in veterinary medicine.


Executive Director Phil Jenni at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

Executive Director Phil Jenni at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

This year, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center expects to treat almost 10,000 animals from 180 species. How many veterinary hospitals treat bobcats, salamanders, and squirrels under one roof? Executive director Phil Jenni says that taking care of “wild animals” sets them apart. They are creating a culture of hope, compassion, and kindness.

The veterinary hospital relies almost exclusively on donations from the public in order to continue its amazing work, and since 2002, the nonprofit has grown tremendously despite the poor economic climate. It is wonderful to see that so many people are devoted to animal welfare. If you are in Minnesota, or elsewhere, you can get involved at any scale. The organization has approximately 600 volunteers and is always ready to welcome another.

Artists in Residence Supporting Orangutans

There are so many ways to get involved in orangutan preservation efforts, but the most unique I’ve heard of is “Pongos Helping Pongos”. Since 2004, the Houston Zoo has hosted a silent auction to raise money for endangered orangutans. Original paintings are sold to the highest bidder which has raised more than $200,000 for conservation efforts in southeast Asia. That’s not what sets this charity function apart, though. The paintings are created by residents of the Houston Zoo, including orangutans, elephants, siamangs, and babirusas. The animals showcased their talent using their hooves, fingers, and paintbrushes. Young orangutans like to finger paint, just like young human children. The paintings express the animals’ talent, personality, and creativity. Not only are the paintings unique and beautiful, but the proceeds from their sale support such an important cause. Check out one-of-a-kind paintings from past auctions here.

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