They define the Indianapolis Zoo — the animals that people flock to see day after day.
Yet some might be surprised that many of those furry faces are the same ones that greeted the first guests through the gates of the new Indianapolis Zoo when it opened at White River State Park on June 11, 1988.
Nearly 30 animals have been here since the grand opening of the new Zoo. Whether they’re fan favorites or lesser-known creatures, each of those animals has a unique story.
One of the first animals visitors saw at the new Zoo was California sea lion Marcy. She came as a yearling from Sea World Ohio with five other sea lions. While the others all had distinctive marks, her lack of markings actually led to her name — “no mark” to “Marcy.”
Now 25 years old and the mother of Diego, Marcy has grown to be a favorite of Tom Granberry, the Zoo’s Area Manager of Marine Mammals. In Granberry’s opinion, if Marcy’s not the best sea lion ever, she’s close to it.
She knows a wide range of behaviors, including balancing a ball, doing flipper stands and giving the occasional kiss. Guests can pick her out of the crowd by her habitual sneezing and loud barks, plus at feeding time she always folds large herring in half before eating them.
Kubwa and Ivory
African elephants Kubwa and Ivory are two of the most well-known and popular animals at the Zoo. And it’s been that way since the beginning, when the trunk-clad tandem helped Indianapolis dignitaries and Zoo officials break ground on the new facility back in 1985.
Kubwa came to Indianapolis as a 2-year-old and started as a resident of the Washington Park Children’s Zoo. While work was going on at the site of the new Zoo, Kubwa even pitched in with construction!
Now 36, Kubwa is a laid-back but affectionate elephant that seeks out attention, said Senior Elephant Trainer Jill Sampson. Kubwa also has a bit of a sweet tooth and loves the occasional peppermint treat. She’s goofy in the most loveable way and always greets her keepers in the morning with a rumble.
Ivory came here in 1984 as a youngster and lived at the old Zoo for several years. Not long after her arrival, Ivory hit the big time when she made a guest appearance with Betty White. The acclaimed actress came to Indianapolis and the site of the new Zoo on June 12, 1987, to unveil a new series of American wildlife postage stamps. But it was Ivory who stole the show!
Now 30 years old, Ivory has mellowed over the years, Sampson said. She added that Ivory is still peppy, responsive and fun to work with, if even occasionally a little too clever. And she’ll do just about anything for a bagel.
Both elephants are now moms three times over with youngsters that are equally as loved by the community.
She is now a calm, mature, elder stateswoman of the Zoo, holding court daily on the large rock at the center of her exhibit, nicknamed “the throne.” But in her youth, polar bear Tundra was quite a spitfire, running or swimming through her exhibit and romping with other resident polar bears. (That's Tundra on the left enjoying a swim with Pasha).
Born at the San Diego Zoo, the 26-year-old polar bear is described as dainty — for a bear.
Granberry said Tundra loves treats of fruits and honey, and she enjoys eating the body of fish but leaving the heads for the staff to clean up.
Although Tundra enjoys a more laid-back lifestyle now and likes to watch people as they go through, she’s still known to enjoy a good splash in the pool now and again.
Other Anniversary Animals
Starting in what is now Oceans, several southern Rockhopper penguins came to the Zoo in 1988 from Sea World in San Diego.
Down the path in Forests, guests will find ring-tailed lemurs, Kim and Kate. Kate, 30, is the mother of Kim, who was born at the new Zoo on March 26, 1987. In Deserts, you’ll find a 27-year-old radiated tortoise that came from the Bronx in 1986.
In Encounters, guests might spot one of 14 Chilean flamingos or perhaps a parrot —yellow-headed Amazons Ozark and Poncho — who have all been here since the new Zoo’s beginning.
Several 25-year animals live in Plains, including East African grey-crowned crane Csihari, Seymour, a Ruppell’s griffon vulture, and Adeline, or Addie, a 31-year-old New Guinea baboon who was born at the old Zoo.
These animals are more than a part of the collection at the Indianapolis Zoo, they’re forever a part of its history.
Photos: sea lion Marcy by Sydney Janvrin; parrot Ozark by Drew Davis.