With the recent popularity of the Bronx Zoo Cobra, I thought it was a good time to check out some other zoo animals that received celebrity status during their heydays. I don’t know if any of their Twitter feeds could have competed with the Cobra’s nearly quarter of a million followers, though!
1. Knut the polar bear, the Berlin Zoo. Everyone knows Knut – he was the subject of a worldwide craze just a few years ago. His 2006 birth was a big deal because it marked the first time a polar bear had been born in captivity – and survived – at the Berlin Zoo for more than 30 years. But also, he was just so dang cute. The zoo made about five million Euros more than usual in 2007, which they attribute directly to the baby bear’s presence. Sadly, Knut died earlier this year when he drowned after having a seizure.
2. Guy the gorilla, the London Zoo. Because he arrived at the London Zoo on Guy Fawkes night, this Western Lowland Gorilla was named for him. He quickly endeared himself to staff and zoo patrons alike due to his incredibly gentle nature: although he looked quite scary, it was said that Guy liked to hold birds in his hands and examine them before letting them fly away again. After he died in 1978, the Zoo had a bronze statue made in his likeness that still stands watch over the monkey and ape pavilion to this day.
4. Ken Allen the orangutan, San Diego Zoo. Ken Allen, AKA the hairy Houdini, was famous for his death-defying attempts to escape the confines of his habitat. OK, so they weren’t death-defying. But Ken Allen seemed to find great amusement in thwarting his keepers’ efforts to keep him in his pen. He escaped not once, not twice, but three times in as many months during the summer of 1985. Rock climbers were eventually hired to find potential escape routes so zookeepers could block them.
5. Gemina the giraffe, Santa Barbara Zoo.
Gemina became famous because of a neck deformity that caused her vertebrae to stick out from a near-90-degree angle. Despite the anomaly, which looks like it would be fatal, Gemina lived to the age of 15, which is pretty good for a giraffe in captivity.
6. Harriet the tortoise, the Australia Zoo.
Gemina the giraffe’s ripe old age of 15 is chump change to tortoises, who usually live well past a century. Harriet is thought to have been the third-oldest tortoise ever, celebrating 175 birthdays before her death in 2006. Though two other tortoises have lived longer, Harriet is special because it’s believed that she was collected by Charles Darwin.
9. Su Lin the giant panda, Brookfield Zoo. In 1936, a baby giant panda named Su Lin was captured by Ruth Harkness, an explorer, and given to the Brookfield Zoo just outside of Chicago. Su Lin was so famous that he had celebrity fans: his visitors included Shirley Temple, Kermit Roosevelt and Helen Hayes. Sadly, Su Lin died of pneumonia the following year… but you can still see him! The Field Museum in Chicago had her stuffed and displays him year-round.
10. Snowflake the gorilla, Barcelona Zoo. Snowflake may seem like an odd name for a gorilla, but it was perfect for this one: he was the only known albino gorilla in the world. In 2003, it was discovered that he had developed a form of skin cancer thought to be related to his albinism. When the Barcelona Zoo announced that Snowflake was dying, thousands of people came to tell him goodbye.