145 Year History Translates to Generations of Memories
Lincoln Park Zoo always has something new to celebrate. It might be baby gibbon Daxin taking his first swing through the treetops. It could be bachelor gorillas learning to play together or an old black bear showing cublike enthusiasm for new enrichment.
At the same time, the zoo has celebrated more than 145 years as a Chicago landmark. This proud past includes generations of memories, for people and animals alike. While Bushman, Adelor (above) and Keo are no longer with us, they still have a place at the zoo—and in the thoughts of everyone who shared a wild encounter with them.
In our final Life Cycle segment, we look back at a few animals, big and small, who’ve left a lasting mark on Lincoln Park Zoo.
A Roaring Tribute
When African lion Adelor passed away in February 2012, the response from friends of the zoo was heartfelt and sustained. Hundreds of people shared their memories of the big cat, who first arrived at Lincoln Park Zoo in 1995, recalling the male’s powerful roars from his perch at the Kovler Lion House or seeing him lounging in the sun with mates Myra and Helene.
One friend of the zoo did more than that, though. An anonymous donor was moved to honor Adelor’s memory with a bronze sculpture. Created by local artists Anna Koh Varill and Jeffrey H. Varilla, the statue welcomes guests at Lincoln Park Zoo’s East Gate. By encouraging visitors to pose with the big cat, this life-sized tribute shares Adelor’s impact with a new generation of visitors.
“The sound of Adelor roaring was a big memory for so many visitors,” says Curator of Mammals Mark Kamhout. “It seems appropriate to have him out there welcoming people.”
Small and Special
Of course, you don’t have to be rendered in bronze to leave a lasting impression. Countless animals live on in photos, memories and stories from those who knew them best.
Take former dwarf crocodile R1, for instance. Named for his top spot in the zoo census—he was Reptile One—this endangered predator was Lincoln Park Zoo’s longest-lived resident before passing away in 2010.
In 70 years at the zoo, R1 lived at the old Reptile House (now Park Place Café), Regenstein Small Mammal–Reptile House and Regenstein African Journey, never showing much sign of age as guests—and caregivers—advanced through the generations.
He made a mark as the zoo’s oldest parent, siring his first, and final, clutch of offspring at the distinguished age of 67. Beyond memories, R1’s legacy lives on in the five offspring growing at Regenstein Small Mammal–Reptile House. “Who knows how long they’ll be here?” says Curator Diane Mulkerin.
Chimpanzee Keo lived at Lincoln Park Zoo for more than 50 years. Ultimately, the beloved great ape’s experience heightened how much zoos grew and matured over his long lifespan.
“When Keo first arrived at the zoo in 1959, the world was a different place,” says Steve Ross, Ph.D., director of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes. “Animals were still treated more like objects of amusement than treasured ambassadors of wild, endangered wildlife.”
How much has changed? The baby chimpanzee came to Lincoln Park Zoo from Africa, a practice that no longer takes place. He was raised by people instead of within the natural social group that would be his first option today.
He arrived at an institution that had a miniscule conservation and science outreach presence, a far cry from the dozens of dedicated scientists working to conserve species today.
By the time Keo matured, the zoo had come a long way toward giving all species the naturalistic social groups and settings they need to thrive. And when Keo was humanely euthanized in September 2013 due to the irreversible effects of advanced cardiac disease, he’d received the state-of-the art care that’s helped animals live longer, healthier lives than ever before.
Beyond the revolutionary arc of his life, though, Keo is remember most for the personal impact he had on his fellow chimpanzees—and the people who cared for him.
“Keo had an unbelievable talent to make those around him feel special,” says Ross. “He related well with other chimps, but he knew how to interact with people too. It amazed me how he mastered overt communication, like when he’d see you down the hallway and start bouncing up and down to solicit play, and very subtle communication, like when you would sit quietly across from him at the end of the day, and he’d just offer a slight nod of his head to acklowdge your presence.”
“I still think of Keo every day I come to work,” he says. It’s these types of memories—the bonds formed between humans and animals—that are Lincoln Park Zoo’s strongest legacy.
By James Seidler • Published July 17, 2014 • Originally published in Spring 2014 Lincoln Park Zoo Magazine