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St. Louis Zoo plans major primate area expansion

The St. Louis Zoo is planning an $11.5 million expansion of its area for primates, adding 35,000 square feet of outdoor space that will include trails and tunnels for observers to get a close-up view.

Monkeys, chimps and their cousins have long been among the most popular of the 17,000 animals at the zoo, even if the Primate House where they live is aging.

Curator of primates Heidi Hellmuth says the new Primate Canopy Trails, expected to open in 2021, allows the animals to spend much of their time outside.

Meanwhile, visitors will be able to get remarkably close. Those entering the primate area will walk through a ground-level glass tunnel. Overhead mesh tunnels between existing sycamore trees will let people observe the animals as they move and play.

An orangutan named Sam is known at the Zoo as one of its first “ambassadors.” The charismatic ape would ride a large three-wheeler around the Zoo, stop at the ice cream stand, shake hands with visitors and even enjoyed puffing on a pipe. When the Primate House opened in 1924, Sam attended dressed in white tie and tails. He was part of the reception line and sat at the head table next to Mayor Henry Kiel for dinner.

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