By Rebecca Toov
You are listening to U of M Radio on your Historic Dial!
From 1938-1979, the Minnesota School of the Air brought educational programs into the classrooms of Minnesota and beyond over radio airwaves and through tape transcription. During the 1977-1978 season, School of the Air produced a series of radio “field trips” called Look What We Found, a program that introduced students to people and places in Minnesota. Join us this season as we revisit these radio field trips. Today’s episode takes listeners to the zoo, and ends with an important lesson.
Season 2: Episode 5. At the Zoo.
You are listening to U of M Radio on your Historic Dial podcast. Welcome to Season 2: Episode 5.
Hi, this is Rebecca from University Archives. Today’s featured broadcast of the program Look What We Found is titled, “At the Zoo.” It is an interview with a zookeeper from Como Zoo in St. Paul who introduced listeners to some new animals. Normally on this podcast, I give a short introduction and then we listen to the historic broadcast. Due to something that happened after this program originally aired on March 30, 1978, we should meet the animals and hear from the zookeeper first. I’ll come back at the end to conclude the program.
Various voices: I don’t believe it. You’ve got to be kidding… Whew… oh wow!
[Group exclamation] Look what we found!
Announcer: Come on you’ve been sitting there far too long. Join the Minnesota School of the Air as we take a field trip in sound to someplace you’ve probably never been, somewhere in and around the Twin Cities. And here to go with you are your hosts Walter, Patty, and Bill.
Walter: Ok Patty, what’s that?
Patty: It’s guessing game time.
Bill: Well it’s definitely something alive.
Patty: That’s right Bill.
Walter: Sounds like a baby of some kind.
Patty: You’re right too Walter. It’s the voice of St. Paul’s youngest celebrity. He’s a lion cub that was born at Como Park Zoo last week.
Bill: Well, tell us some more.
Patty: Why don’t we listen instead to someone who really knows what she’s talking about. Joanne is a zookeeper at the zoo. We talked about it and she told me that spring is her favorite time at the zoo and it’s because spring is the time for baby animals.
Joanne: Pretty big ostrich… [Laugh]
Patty: What are the best parts of the job?
Joanne: The best parts… um, well some of the easiest… like right now in the springtime it’s, uh, duckling season, and baby cat season, and baby chicken and baby rabbit season. It’s time for babies, and that’s really my favorite time of the year because everything is kind of opening up and springtime in Minnesota is beautiful anyway and then when the animals are kind of adding to it it’s really nice and sometimes you get to bottle feed the babies and take care of our little zoo animals, so it’s really interesting.
Patty: Wasn’t there a new arrival here? A couple days ago?
Joanne: Yes, we had the birth of one lion cub which was male and he was born Friday. We’re not too sure. He wasn’t here Thursday night but he was here Friday morning. So he was born Friday during the early hours of the morning. Um, Saturday throughout the day we had 3 tiger cubs born, and… Alexandra’s good at this… she usually picks a busy Saturday or Sunday always, and she usually starts about 9 in the morning and then she finished by about 5 in the afternoon… and she had 3 this time and we tried to keep them with her. It was hopeful that she would nurse them and attend to them as she should but, unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky this time. And we had to take the cubs from her, but they are all being bottle raised right now. All 4 of them… well, unfortunately, one of the tiger cubs has already passed on. But, tigers are very hard to raise in captivity. They are an endangered species. The lion cub is doing excellently, and the other two surviving tigers are doing fine also now.
Patty: What are their names?
Joanne: We have only named the lion cub so far, and we named him Otis after Supreme Court justice James Otis. And this is a strange reason, but one of our zookeepers found… when he came in and found the cub and the mother was not taking care of him, he went in after removing the lions from the cage and the cub was lying on a bench and so he figured it would have to be named after a judge since it had something to do with a bench, and ridiculous as it seems, we come up with names that way quite often. But the tigers haven’t been named yet, usually, it’ll be a Russian name probably since their parents’ names are Nicholas and Alexandra.
Patty: Do different kinds of animals present different kinds of problems in terms of the way things that you do for them?
Joanne: Well if the animal is behind the caged area of the zoo you can take a little bit more uh you can uh you can pet them a little or scratch their ear if you know someone of them. I call them my people, you know? If you know the tiger you can scratch him if you do it very carefully because you know that his paws are a little bit too big to get out to the bars but then of course if you are working up at the barn and you want to say pet the camel very carefully there is nothing between you and it at the barn… you are in the stall with him in the wintertime because he is closed in in the zoo barn and he only has the, um, the yard to go in in the springtime and summer and fall when it’s warm enough for him. So, when you clean in those cases in the wintertime you have to be quite careful because they’re a little bit, uh, quite a bit larger than you are and one quick kick could send you flying very easily, very easily. So it’s a little bit more dangerous up at the barn.
Patty: Are there really dangerous parts of this job? I mean…
Joanne: Yes and no. It uh, it takes a little bit of common sense, and there really shouldn’t be too much danger. For instance, we sometimes have to change yards in the summertime. One yard gets very very muddy, and we have to change the ostriches from one yard to another. Well, it takes practically the whole zoo crew to do that because ostriches are not the brightest animal in the world and you can get one going through the fence… if one goes through the gates you’re okay, but if they get the idea in their head that they want to go into the corner, they’ll all go in the corner and then turn around and try to run you over. So you have to be very quick on your feet and able to jump out of the way no matter if there is a mud hole and you end up in the mud well that’s too bad. It’s better than getting stepped on by a running, stampeding ostrich. [Laugh]
Patty: Do you think these animals are happy in captivity?
Joanne: Uh, from a zookeepers standpoint I think so. Uh, my viewpoint is… but of course, you can’t put human feelings into an animal…. But they… when you see them every day, and you watch them daily, and see how they act and react to things… they smile now and then and they frown and they have their bad days just like we do, and it’s just in this little smaller area, and they become used to it. There are very few animals that we have that were, uh, born in the wild. The majority of them were bred and raised in captivity, and they don’t really know anything else. It isn’t right, but they don’t know anything else and they really don’t… if they would get out I would imagine it would take them quite a while to get used to being alone and not dependant on people.
Patty: What do you think about the idea of having wild animals for pets?
Joanne: Um, I think I’m pretty negative on the idea, um, because as a zookeeper I see the results of people trying to raise a wild animal in their apartment or on their farm or something like that. Sometimes, it’s very successful, but I don’t think those cases… that’s a very minority. The most popular monkey to buy I think is a capuchin monkey which is just a scrub, scrub type monkey. And, they are small, but in an apartment, they have no control over themselves at all. When they have to go, they go. Whether they are flying over your head or in their cage or what, and I can just imagine people’s apartments… I just couldn’t picture myself as a mother to a monkey. They are very dirty animals. [Laugh] And so we get them when the people are tired of them, and they can’t handle them anymore. And then we get their problems, and it’s very hard for us to get these monkeys to adjust to a life in a larger cage then what they were used to at an apartment probably… but to socialize with the other monkeys and monkeys are social animals. Ya know, just grooming themselves. People think they are picking lice or anything but they, not even that, they just groom themselves, it’s like shaking hands and saying hello, and they don’t know what to do, they don’t know how to react with other monkeys. They’re afraid and generally, they get picked on and then we have to separate that monkey from the rest of them and it causes a lot of problems for us when we have a small zoo and small areas to have them. So, I’m not too high on having animals wild in your own home.
Patty: Do you like being a zookeeper?
Joanne: I love it. The only thing I would change was that I would have done it a long time ago instead of just 2 ½ years ago. It’s great. [Laugh]
Walter: Patty, she sounds like she really loves her job.
Patty: Yeah, I think that she does. And you know what? All the things that she said about keeping wild animals as pets are important to remember.
Bill: That’s right, wild animals are meant to live in the wild, and bringing them home is really unfair to the animals.
Walter: It’s true. Well, Patty and Bill, looks like our time is up.
Patty: So Long everybody!
Announcer: Producers for Look What We Found are Patty Goodwin, Bill Golfus, and Walter Brody. Join us next time for another field trip in sound brought to you by The Minnesota School of the Air.
[Music fades out]
More to the story
The Teacher’s Guide for this program prompts teachers to ask their students before the broadcast, “Is it fair to take young wild animals away from nature to keep as pets?” During the broadcast, the zookeeper makes a good case for why that wouldn’t be a good idea.
Out of curiosity, I accessed the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database to see if local newspapers printed articles about the birth of Otis the lion cub who we were introduced to in the broadcast. I found the following headline in the July 24, 1978 Minneapolis Star, “Kidnapper of missing Como Zoo cub may have a lion by the tail.” A few months after this broadcast of Look What We Found aired – a broadcast that warned against taking in wild animals as pets – Otis was stolen from the zoo.
He wasn’t gone for long. The following day, July 25, Otis was pictured on the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune with an article titled, “Absent Como lion cub tore off to Milwaukee.” The article reported that the cub had been turned in to the Milwaukee County Zoo. A man from Milwaukee claimed to have seen Otis along Interstate 94 near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, stopped his car, and picked up the cub from the roadside.
John Fletcher, zoo director, was quoted as stating, “Somewhere along the way to Milwaukee [he] decided Otis wouldn’t make such a good pet.” The article goes on to say that Robert Bullermann, acting director of the Milwaukee County Zoo said that Otis “gnawed an armrest and the door handles, chewed up a bean bag chair between the bucket seats, and bit the radio wires under the dashboard.”
The article noted that the cub had been taken sometime between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. when a groundskeeper was not on duty. Fletcher added that the iron fence that surrounded the zoo was “very ineffective for keeping people out.” Because the lock on Otis’ cage had been cut, Fletcher stated that authorities would continue to investigate to see who originally took Otis from his cage. The cub was returned to Como Zoo after a few days.
The October 19, 1978 Minneapolis Tribune reported that the man from Milwaukee was accused of taking the lion from the zoo. He plead innocent and a trial date was set for December 4, 1978. The Minneapolis Star from December 5, 1978 carried an article with the headline “Milwaukee man admits stealing lion from zoo.” He changed his plea to guilty in Ramsey County District Court. The judge stated he would make a sentence on December 3, 1979 after a review of the defendant’s record over the year.
Just as the young listeners to Look What We Found learned that it isn’t fair to take young wild animals away from nature to keep as pets, the man from Milwaukee learned it is also not fair to take them from the zoo.
About this podcast
The U of M Radio on Your Historic Dial podcast is produced by University Archives for your enjoyment. Subscribe or download on iTunes or GooglePlay so you don’t miss another moment of historic Minnesota radio.
Recordings of the program series Look What We Found were digitized in 2016 in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.
—Rebecca Toov is the collections archivist for the University of Minnesota Archives.