The Lake Superior Zoo, formerly Duluth Fairmount Zoo, was founded in 1923 by Bert Onsgard, a West Duluth businessman who rescued a small fawn and built a pen for it. The whitetail deer named ”Billy-Billy” was found in Fairmount Park, hence the name. Sitting at the base of Spirit Mountain and recently covering over 16 scenic acres, the Pittsburgh Steel Company donated a railroad car of fencing. The community quickly embraced it and local citizens donated exotic animals.
Home to quite a few celebrity-like animals. To name a few: Bessie, the elephant, came to the zoo in 1937 at 12 years old. Before the perimeter fencing was installed around the zoo, she would often wander off the zoo grounds and stroll through the neighborhoods of West Duluth. Valerie was a Himalayan black bear who had previously been a mascot for a World War II bomber unit. Even taking her on several bombing runs. Mr. Magoo, an Indian mongoose, who was smuggled into the Duluth port by a merchant seaman who had kept him as a pet on a ship that sailed from India to the Great Lakes to the port of Duluth. Alas, he was not built for a life at sea, and the seaman decided to donated him to the Duluth Zoo – which became problematic. At the time, there was a federal ban on exotic creatures. The government ordered that it be euthanized but the public wouldn’t have it. Outcry reached the White House and in November, 1962, Mr. Magoo received an official Presidential pardon from President John F. Kennedy.
In 2012, a flood took the lives of fourteen animals including six sheep, four goats, a donkey, a turkey vulture, a raven and a snowy owl.
Today, the zoo has over 400 animals and 200 different species with exhibits including the African Lion, Asian Caravan, Australia and Oceania, Nocturnal Building, Barnyard, Northern Territory, and Primate Conservation Center. There is also the Safari Café, Tiger’s Paw gift shop, and a Zoo Train.