Remember When the Zoo Was Mostly About Live Animals?

A 13-foot-high gorilla made from junk car parts at the Philadelphia Zoo
One of the many non-organic, selfie-friendly features at the Philadelphia Zoo is this 13-foot-high metal sculpture of a gorilla made from 55 junkyard car hoods.

A recent visit to the Philadelphia Zoo made me remember back when zoos were primarily about living animals. I initially had this thought a couple years ago when the Zoo opened an exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs. While these prehistoric beasts certainly are entertaining it did seem odd to me to have such a mix of fake robot animals among the real ones. Not that I don’t recognize the problem that Philadelphia’s and other zoos face now that children can see virtually any animal they want online and even watch those creatures  doing quite dramatic things on YouTube. So, a trip to the Philadelphia Zoo for many kids is a bit of a bore, with animals often lying down nearly out of sight in their cages or nowhere to be seen in their outdoor areas.

To counter this, the Zoo has turned itself into a children’s amusement park offering, besides robot dinosaurs, face painting, scavenger hunts, kiddie train rides, a three-story high rope climbing adventure, carousel rides, a “LumiNature” exhibit that, much like the annual Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival, featuring enormous, illuminated fabric and wire structures to be walked through. There are swan boat rides, Halloween witches’ wand making classes and, at times, jugglers, musicians, and artists wandering around the place.

The latest Philadelphia Zoo amusement park installation features 15-foot-high trolls built from scrap wood by Danish recycling artist Thomas Dambo. Placed strategically around the Zoo, each of the six gigantic figures have their own messages about recycling, environmental conservation, and wildlife preservation. There are also tips on building bird houses. During my visit, children by the dozens ran past the live animal areas to climb atop the trolls for selfies. Here’s what the named trolls looked like:

A Thomas Dambo troll sculpture named Ronja Redeye
Ronja Redeye
A Thomas Dambo troll sculpture named Rosa Sunfinger at the Philadelphia Zoo
Rosa Sunfinger
A Thomas Dambo troll sculpture named Basse Buller at the Philadelphia Zoo
Basse Buller
A Thomas Dambo troll sculpture named Kamma Can
Kamma Can
A Thomas Dambo troll sculpture named Sofus Lotus at the Philadelphia Zoo
Sofus Lotus
A Thomas Dambo troll sculpture named Ibbi Pip
Ibbi Pip