The recent loss of Nakili, Brookfield Zoo’s 33-year-old eastern black rhinoceros, unexpectedly sent us on a trip down memory lane.
Out of curiosity, we asked Sondra Katzen, the zoo’s director of public relations, whether there was an animal cemetery at Brookfield, even if only for some of the longer-lived individuals.
There isn’t, per guidelines established by the zoo’s accrediting body, but Brookfield has created permanent memorials to some its most beloved, charismatic residents, she said.
Larger Than Life
The first that sprung to Katzen’s mind was Olga the walrus, who died in 1988. At the time, at age 27, Olga was the oldest walrus in captivity.
Olga had a “big, loveable personality and was definitely a favorite among zoo-goers and staff alike,” Katzen said.
Indeed, Olga was so popular that at one point people ponied up $20,000 to help offset her $13,000-a-year fish habit.
Among her many antics, Olga had a habit of blowing water at her fans — immortalized in a 1981 TV commercial for the zoo’s “Seven Seas Panorama.” There are undoubtedly Gen X-ers out there who’ll remember being doused a time or two.
After she died, the zoo commissioned a life-sized bronze statue of Olga. Visitors love to cozy up to the lookalike for photos, which, in a bit of bummer, does not squirt water on cue like the real deal.
When the zoo unveiled Tropic World, the first fully indoor rainforest simulation, in the 1980s, the main attraction was its family of western lowland gorillas. And at the head of this family was its patriarch, Samson.
Samson arrived at Brookfield in 1980 on breeding loan from the Buffalo Zoological Gardens. He took the job seriously — by the end of the next year, Samson was already a father twice over.
He died of a brain tumor in 1988, a rough year for the zoo. At age 30, he was then the oldest breeding gorilla in captivity. Samson left behind his mates Alpha and Babs and four children, with a fifth on the way.
Today, a bronze statue of Samson greets visitors to Tropic World.
#TBT Samson Gorilla arrived in #BrookfieldZoo in 1980. Today, there's a statue honoring this primate at Tropic World. pic.twitter.com/mhaXwanLfq
— Brookfield Zoo (@brookfield_zoo) July 10, 2014
An Original Character
With his colorful plumage and funky head bobs, Cookie the cockatoo was made for social media stardom, something absolutely no one could have imagined when the bird arrived at the zoo way back in the 1930s.
One of Brookfield Zoo’s original animals, Cookie was quite the character, by turns charming and cantankerous, but never dull. His outsized personality made him an instant favorite, the first stop for many visitors.
His admirers stretched across the globe and Cookie’s annual birthday parties — where he was showered with cards and gifts — drew throngs.
By the time he died in 2016, the 83-year-old Cookie had set the Guinness World Record for oldest living parrot. He’d spent his final years off exhibit, living in the staff office where he played games of peek-a-boo, interrupted meetings with his squawks and enjoyed constant pampering.
“I actually was crying when I wrote the (press) release about his death,” Katzen said. “He was very special.”
In 2017, the zoo unveiled a bronze statue of Cookie, perched on a bench outside the Reptiles and Birds House, his head mischievously cocked for all time.
Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 | [email protected]