Lake Superior Zoo

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Lake Superior Zoo
Date opened1923
LocationDuluth, Minnesota, United States
Coordinates46°43′30″N 92°11′28″W / 46.725°N 92.191°W / 46.725; -92.191Coordinates: 46°43′30″N 92°11′28″W / 46.725°N 92.191°W / 46.725; -92.191

The Lake Superior Zoo is an AZA-accredited zoo in Duluth, Minnesota. The mission of the Lake Superior Zoo is to provide close-up animal experiences which inspire connections to wildlife and action toward conservation in our region and around the world.


The Lake Superior Zoo was founded in 1923 by a West Duluth businessman, Bert Onsgard, when he built a pen for his white tail deer "Billy". This helped his vision spread through the community who in turn helped him build the zoo. The Pittsburgh Steel Company donated a rail car of fencing, people donated exotic pets, and school children raised money to buy two lion cubs. A bridge was built over Kingsbury Creek, which runs through the zoo. The zoo went through some difficult years during the Great Depression but eventually managed to build an elephant house. After some very successful years it acquired more animals more native to the area.


Bessie, the elephant, was one of the zoo's first star attractions. She came to the zoo at the age of 12 in 1937 when the elephant house opened. The zoo's website states:

Before perimeter fencing was installed around the zoo, Bessie would often wander off the zoo grounds and go "visiting." One recounting of an event tells of a neighbor who had to call a zookeeper one evening because Bessie was standing on his front porch. In his haste, the zookeeper ran out the door in his pajamas to retrieve Bessie. When he got there, he simply took her trunk, pulled it over his shoulder, and walked her back to the zoo.[1]

Bessie remained at the zoo until she died in 1974 at the age of 49.

Valerie was a Himalayan black bear who had been a mascot for a World War II bomber unit. She was donated to the zoo in 1946.

Mr. Magoo was an Indian mongoose who was smuggled into Duluth. It had been a pet on a ship that sailed from Madras (now Chennai), India to Duluth. After arriving, the seaman who had smuggled him in decided the troublesome animal needed a new home, and donated him to the zoo. However, federal law prohibited the possession of a mongoose and it was ordered that it be euthanized. Following much public outcry about the order, President John F. Kennedy granted a presidential pardon that spared his life. Mr. Magoo remained at the Duluth zoo until his death in 1968.

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