20 candles for zoo

Lowry Park Zoo offers reduced ticket prices for its 20th year as a nonprofit.

By Elisabeth Dyer, Times Staff Writer
Published March 6, 2008

TAMPA - The old-timers stared at each other through the glass: man and male Bornean orangutan.

The man put his fist against the glass. Rango the orangutan raised his hand to the other side.

They looked each other in the eye.

"How've you been, buddy?" David Murphy asked. He's been the vet for Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo for the past 22 years.

Wednesday marked 20 years to the day that the zoo reopened as a private, nonprofit organization. Rango, and a few other zoo animals, have been around the whole time.

To celebrate the two decades, prekindergarten students from the Zoo School sang, and Lex Salisbury, CEO, reflected on accomplishments.

"We have more endangered Florida wildlife here than any other zoo," he said. "We're growing at five times the rate of any other zoo in the country and currently have 2,000 animals."

Before the reopening, a much smaller zoo with about 260 animals was managed by the Tampa Parks Department.

The zoo's manatee hospital rescues the endangered mammals injured by boaters, sickened by red tide or orphaned.

"We patch them up and send them out," Murphy said. "That's our business."

After a presentation, the gathering moved to watch the orangutans open gifts of dried fruit bananas and T-shirts.

The latter, Rango immediately dropped from his perch.

"He's the oldest male orangutan in North America," Murphy said.

Rango, now 33, arrived as a youth. He fathered five babies and his sixth is due this summer.

Two-year-old Shiyenne Muentes crawled up next to the glass to get a better look as Murphy talked.

"I love you, monkey," Shiyenne chanted.

Discount days

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo celebrates its anniversary year with $10 admission on the 20th of April, May, June, August, September, October and November.

If you go

The zoo is at 1101 W Sligh Ave. in Tampa. For more information, call (813) 935-8552 or go to www.lowryparkzoo.com.