Living a Zoo Dream – Mr. Magoo

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This week I have been researching and thinking a lot about the past, present and future. It is important for everyone to know and understand history, live in the present and prepare for the future. This applies to individuals, families and organizations. Today, I will reflect on the rich history of the Lake Superior Zoo.

The zoo dates to 1923 when a West Duluth businessman, Bert Onsgard, received permission from the city to construct a pen for Billy, his pet deer. Since then, the zoo has undergone many changes, enhancements and rebirths as its goals and the needs of the community have changed.

The zoo has housed a diverse range of animals, including elephants, bison, chimpanzees and various types of bears. As I’ve met with zoo staff and local citizens, there are many amazing and unique stories about zoo animals that are fun to hear.Mr Magoo 1

My favorite story is about the zoo’s famous Indian mongoose, Mr. Magoo. Mr. Magoo arrived in Duluth on a ship that sailed from Madras, India, in 1962. He had caused so much damage and havoc on the ship that the crew donated him to the zoo.

Unfortunately, the law did not allow for mongooses in the U.S., and the government ordered him to be euthanized. Duluth citizens rallied around Mr. Magoo, however, and demanded his survival, whicheventually led to a national pardon by President John F. Kennedy. If you want to learn more about Mr. Magoo, you can see this news report. In addition, a book was written about this local hero.

Mr Magoo 2I love this story for many reasons. First, it shows how important every animal is at the zoo, not just the biggest or most exotic ones. Second, it demonstrates the passion and power of the Duluth community. Our people rally around causes about which they are passionate. They can make anything happen.

While I have been lucky to find a lot of historical information, stories and photos of the zoo, I’d love to get more information from the people who have visited over the years. Please post pictures, add comments and reach out to others to get more information about the cherished history of our unique zoo. I will discuss the plans for the zoo’s future in my next blog posts.

In addition to sharing your knowledge about the history of the zoo, I would challenge each of you to think about your family history as well. Where did your ancestors call home, what were their professions, and how did you get to be who you are today?

Like many Minnesotans, I descend from a combination of German and English ancestors, with a heritage steeped in agriculture, especially in the Granada area near Fairmont, MN. I attribute many of my traits to this great heritage, including my love for working with my hands, my love for animals and my somewhat stoic nature—not to mention my slightly larger than normal nose (thanks, Grandpa Al  J). Please take a moment to think about your heritage and recognize those who have enabled us to live the great lives we enjoy today.

Corey Leet is CEO of the Lake Superior Zoo. You can contact him at or 218-730-4500, extension 203. Find his blog at and on the Lake Superior Zoo’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

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