The trolls at Philly Zoo have a message: Save nature and you’ll save yourself

A set of troll sculptures made from reclaimed wood by Thomas Dambo presses visitors to think about the environment.

Listen 1:11
The troll sculpture Rosa Sunfinger tends to plants growing in a small car.

The troll Rosa Sunfinger tends to plants growing in a small car. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

From Philly and the Pa. suburbs to South Jersey and Delaware, what would you like WHYY News to cover? Let us know!

The Philadelphia Zoo is emerging from hibernation this weekend after its seasonal January closure to reveal a troop of trolls.

Six large-scale troll sculptures have taken up residence throughout the zoo. They are made from reclaimed lumber, mostly shipping pallets. Each has a name, a distinct personality and a message about wildlife conservation and environmental sustainability.

The trolls were made by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, whose iconic, site-specific sculptures have popped up around the world promoting a message of recycling and preserving natural places. Last year, one of them appeared locally in Hainesport, New Jersey.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Trolls: Save the Humans” is a touring set of sculptures developed by Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions. Philadelphia is the third city to host them, and the first on the East Coast.

“There is no such thing as throw-away. When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere,” says Kamma Can, a troll seated in the lotus position, draped in necklaces made from bits of found plastic trash. Kamma Can’s pre-recorded voice can be heard from a nearby box, which visitors can trigger with a plastic key.

“Too often, items like single-use plastic bottles, bags and containers quickly fill our landfills and pollute our oceans,” says the voice of Kamma. “Animals like penguins, fish and seabirds are harmed every year by household trash in their ocean habitats.”

The troll Kamma Can is festooned with jewelry made from recycled materials. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A younger, more mischievous troll named Basse Buller uses stones to mark trails and stack cairns to lead visitors toward “a better direction for the future.”

“I’m a bit stubborn, like all trolls,” says the voice of Basse. “I refuse to believe that we can’t all work together to save wildlife and protect wild places.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor
Children clamber on thee feet of the troll sculpture Basse Buller
Children clamber on thee feet of the troll Basse Buller, who refuses to follow the rules. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The zoo’s new president and CEO, Jo-Elle Mogerman, has a favorite: Ibbi Pip, who sits outside the apiary and carries a sack of birdhouses over her back. She offers tips on building birdhouses.

“Which is really cool for me, because we’re on the Atlantic Flyway,” said Mogerman, who had previously worked in zoos and aquariums in Chicago and St Louis. “We have our bird exhibits, but everyone, no matter where they live, can create spaces for birds.”

The decision to bring “Trolls” to the Philadelphia Zoo predates Mogerman’s tenure as president (she started in October), but she said they align with the zoo’s mission.

“They’re just a different messenger telling the story in a different way through art and really compelling creatures,” Mogerman said. “This is a message we’ve always been giving to our guests: Join us in helping to save wildlife, whether it’s in your own backyard or around the world.”

Philadelphia Zoo President and CEO Jo-Elle Mogerman speaks about the installation ''Trolls'' by Thomas Dambo.
Philadelphia Zoo President and CEO Jo-Elle Mogerman speaks about the installation ”Trolls” by Thomas Dambo. The six large, recycled wood sculptures installed throughout the zoo bring a message: Protect wildlife and wild spaces. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The winter months are typically slower at the zoo, which tends to roll out special programming only during warmer seasons. “Trolls” is the first special exhibition to debut in the winter. That tickles Angela Val, president and CEO of the tourist marketing company Visit Philadelphia.

“We love that the Philadelphia Zoo isn’t waiting until the spring to encourage visitors and residents to go out and connect with nature and each other,” Val said.

The trolls are on view until April 15.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal