City mulls animal layoffs at Duluth zoo

duluth zoo cartoon_edited-1

“Duluth Zoo considers ‘non-animal’ planning options.” (Aaron J. Brown)

The Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, Minnesota, is a place of special memories for those of us who grew up in Northern Minnesota. On one hand, it was “our zoo,” the first place where we laid eyes on exotic animals like you see in the storybooks and subject of our youthful curiosity. On the other, it’s been a financial nightmare over much of its recent history, requiring massive city subsidy and experiencing horrible setbacks like the 2012 Flood, loose seals, and occasional tragedies involving free-roaming peacocks. It’s a beautiful attraction on the city’s west side, but a distinct challenge to keep going in a small-to-mid-sized city like Duluth.

As the Duluth News Tribune reports, Duluth is actively considering what to do about the zoo. A consultant has cooked up several options. Invest up to $16 million in renovations, transfer out expensive animals for a more local focus, or even — as we learned this week — totally reinvent the space without animals?

From the Peter Passi story:

Filby Williams also laid out what he called a few “non-zoo options,” suggesting they might make the property more of a neighborhood amenity, accessible to all and attractive to young families who might consider moving to nearby Norton Park.

These options included an adventure park, a nature park and a central park, and featured estimated price tags ranging from $9.8 million to $10.25 million. But Filby Williams said he anticipates they would not require the same kind of ongoing subsidy the zoo will need.

John Scott, president of the Lake Superior Zoological Society, served on a nine-member committee charged with studying options for the property but said he was caught “flat-footed” by the proposal that the city consider closing the zoo and converting it to a park or nature area.

“The non-animal option had not been discussed until tonight,” he said.

WDIO reported the same story with this description of the alternative options for the zoo:

HKGI brought three of their own options to the table;
1. An Adventure Zone including: an indoor climbing and education center in the zoo’s Main Building, a canopy ropes course and a more upscale petting zoo.
2. A Nature Park including: the Main Building as a learning center, an outdoor garden house and a native focus on plants
3. A Central Park including: a restaurant/brew pub, an Amphitheatre at Polar Shores and a farm-to-table experience. HKGI representatives said this option includes little to no animals.

Except on the plate. No animals, except on the plate.


  1. John Ramos says

    Maybe we could stuff the animals and display them on pedestals around the city, to serve as a reminder of Duluth’s fantastic turnaround.

  2. I think the time of keeping (exotic) animals in cages or otherwise confined at zoos is coming to an end.
    There is way too much nowadays that we can do with virtual reality–without having to imprison a wild animal.
    There is some concern that some species will only survive if kept in zoos, because their populations in the wild are becoming extinct. I’m not sure that the genetic pool would work under these conditions.

    I’ve been listening to the Food Revolution Summit online. The next major step is how to get rid of factory farms.

    • Yer prolly right. We need all the cages we can git fer people nowdays. Maybe they’ll move prisoners in there.

  3. Christine Graf says

    Animal layoffs? That means the animals are being fired from their jobs,
    right? Have they received proper legal representation? “Laying them
    off” seems a bit mean. What about Duluthians starting an “adopt an
    animal” project?

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