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Two Bonobos Had A Special Connection To The Events Of September 11, 2001

Unga, one of two bonobos in route to the Columbus Zoo on September 11, 2001
The Columbus Zoo And Aquarium
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Unga, one of two bonobos in route to the Columbus Zoo on September 11, 2001

People around the world were stranded on planes bound for the U.S. on September 11, 2001 after American airspace was closed following the terrorist attacks. But there were also some special animals that were stranded on one of the planes.

Columbus Zoo spokeswoman Audra Meinelt said two bonobos from Germany were on their way that morning.

“So they were flying across the oceans and were about an hour outside U.S. airspace when the twin towers fell and like many, many other planes, they were redirected.”

The bonobos’ plane was one of the 38 jetliners redirected to the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland. They stayed in the cargo hold with two zookeepers for five days before the planes could leave.

They were with 6,595 human passengers who were also stranded in the tiny town that barely had 10,000 residents.

But that small community came together to accommodate all of those who were stranded, including the bonobos. Residents of Gander provided food, shelter, and many other services to the passengers who were stranded in that town.

One bonobo, Kosana, was quarantined briefly at the zoo and was transferred to a zoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin after that time. But the other, Unga, lived in Columbus until she died in March at the age of 29.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
The Columbus Zoo And Aquarium
Unga and her son, Gander, at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The story doesn't end there. Two years after Unga arrived at the zoo, she gave birth in December 2003. The first of her offspring was named Gander, in honor of the people in Gander, Newfoundland. Gander is still at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, along with two of Unga's other offspring, Jerry and Elema.

The story of that effort was documented in the book, "The Day the World Came to Town" by Jim Defede and also in the Broadway musical, "Come From Away."

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.