Visitors to the Philadelphia Zoo are getting to know a whole new cast of characters. It's a fresh start after so much sadness. Philadelphia's old friends John and Samantha and Snickers and 20 other primates died in a tragic fire on Christmas Eve 1995. No American zoo had ever seen a disaster on this scale. As CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman reports, it would be difficult to overstate the sense of loss.
After the fire, Philadelphia went into a state of mourning, especially the zoo keepers. Maria Schwalbe was home visiting family for the holidays when she got the call from her boss.
"I couldn't believe it," says Schwalbe. "And then my mom walked in the room and I just started cryingÂ…It never goes away."
|Gorillas are at home in The Bronx, too. Click here to see them.|
That is how 35 primates handpicked from zoos across America arrived in Philadelphia by special animal airlift this spring. Among them, Chaka, a 14-year-old, 400-pound silverback gorilla from the Cincinnati Zoo, where he's known as quite the ladies man. In five years there, he has sired eight offspring.
"There was a time when a zoo owned an animal and you bought an animal, you traded animals in the market like a commodity," says Andy Baker, the zoo's curator for primates. "Whether you own an animal or not really becomes less meaningful."
"How animals move around the country now has less and less to do with ownership, and more and more to do with managing the population for genetic and demographic stability. You don't want inbreeding. Notoo many, not too few," says Baker.
Designing a zoo building is a question of balancing the often competing interests of the animals, the keepers, and the public.
"You'll really see no bars in this project," says architect John Rogers. "The idea is really we attempted to turn the building inside out."
Rogers has designed dozens of zoos, and although he's from Philadelphia, this is his first project in the city.
"The concept is that it's almost a play on words. It's 'who's watching who?' And there are all kinds of corners and angles and ins and outs. There are huge expanses of glass, 14, 15-foot high glass. What we're trying to do is make it an exciting place," says Rogers.
The fashion in zoos these days is the all-natural look: Enclosures that look something like the jungles where these animals come from. But now they're trying something different.
If activity and productivity are gauges, the animals seem content in their new homes. Since the collection was moved in, there have been three births. Meanwhile, Philadelphians are eagerly introducing themselves to their new neighbors. And Philadelphia has moved on too. It is not the way anyone would wish change to happen, but it's clear that something exciting has risen from the ashes of tragedy.