Wild Connections: January 2014

In this issue: Partner Profile -- Frank Cartieri, new Partner Louisville Zoo, Conservation Corner, Holiday Festivities and more.

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Photo by (C)Paul A. Selvaggio

Frank Cartieri

Frank Cartieri’s beginnings in the zoo world were not in administration or even animal care.  He began as a maker of pizzas 22 years ago, but it was just a temporary gig….so he thought.  His wife, Lisa, who at the time was working for SSA at the Pittsburgh Zoo, recruited him.  One Labor Day Weekend, she needed help and asked Frank to lend a hand.  Many said that he made more pizzas than anyone had ever seen one person make in a day! His performance led to him volunteering his culinary skills at another event. And it wasn’t long before SSA General Manager Ivan Gartner saw his impact and hired him to be the Food and Beverage Manager.

Frank spent the next several years working for SSA, first as F&B Manager and, eventually, Manager of Capital Projects. In 2000, the zoo hired him to direct zoo operations and manage the development of new projects.  Today, Frank is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the zoo and aquarium.  He says his favorite part of the job is working with the zoo’s younger staff members.  “Ivan Gartner showed all of us the importance of mentoring the younger staff. So, I love to mentor young people and am always looking for ways to develop staff professionally so they have an opportunity to advance in our organization, as well as any other that they may be interested in,” Frank said.

A highlight of Frank’s zoo career was the planning and management of the Water’s Edge construction, a green-built habitat featuring up-close viewing of polar bears, sea otters and sand tiger sharks.  Opened in 2006, it’s the only exhibit in the country with two underwater tunnels.

 NEWS JAN2014 - PBZ BlurbAnother career highlight was helping to hire Eli Grill as the SSA General Manager, who began working at the zoo as a teenager.  Frank worked with, and mentored, Eli for several years, and said it was very gratifying to see Eli’s hard work earn him the GM role.

Customer service is an important element at the zoo. Frank said, “We simply cannot do any important programs without GREAT customer service no matter what department we are talking about. Whether your customers are internal or external, you simply cannot make it work without GREAT customer service.”  Frank shared that when he gets letters from visitors, they always refer first to the quality and friendliness of both the zoo staff as well as the SSA staff, and then they talk about the animals! “We are GREAT partners!” he added.



Even though Frank was born and raised in Pittsburgh, he decided in 1975 to move across the country to Denver to finish his degree in political science at the University of Colorado.  He stayed in the area until 1988, and before moving home to Pittsburgh, made his home in Palm Beach, Florida.

After returning to the Steel City, Frank married Lisa, a woman he has known since before either had driver’s licenses.  After 23 years, Frank and Lisa enjoy life in Pittsburgh. Lisa is a mosaic artist as well as the manager of several rental properties that the couple own in the area.  When Frank isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his wife, golfing in the summer months, and reading as much as possible – especially learning more about climate change and global warming.


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On November 15, 2013, SSA and the Louisville Zoo began their partnership, with SSA providing food, beverage and retail operations.  Zoo Director John Walczak explained that the zoo wanted a partner who would work hard and exceed guest expectations.  “SSA delivers exceptional customer service,” he said. NEWS JAN2014 - LVZ logo

According to Brett Taylor, SSA’s General Manager, zoo guests can expect a revamped program, with renovations taking place this winter to the main café and gift shop. Guests will also notice immediate changes in the menu offerings, which will soon boast several additional healthy options, fresh deli sandwiches, and daily specials.  Menus will also feature ingredients from local farmers and suppliers.  The retail shop will also increase it’s offering of eco-friendly and fair trade items, and Mr. Walczak commented that SSA “has already transformed the gift shop into an inviting and fun experience.”

“The Louisville Zoo is one of the country’s top zoos, and we look forward to enhancing the guest experience with new and innovative culinary offerings and a dynamic retail program – all delivered with exemplary customer service,” said Tim Brantley, SSA President & CEO.

In addition to Brett Taylor, the team includes AGM Stephanie Gray (former Catering Manager at the Denver Zoo), John Bird (former Concessions Operations Manager at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo), and Samantha Miller who joined SSA in November, bringing with her an extensive background in retail operations.

When asked about his thoughts on the future, Brett had this to say, “We are extremely excited about this opportunity and are truly looking forward to surpassing all expectations. We have handcrafted a team that is knowledgeable, getting along nicely, and passionate beyond measure. This is going to be fun. We’re really looking forward to making an impact here!”

More than 850,000 guests visit the Louisville Zoo each year.  Opened in 1969, the zoo currently exhibits more than 1,500 animals in a variety of habits, including the award-winning Islands, Gorilla Forest and Glacier Run exhibits.  Plus, the zoo produces over 50 special event days each year including Earth Month activities in April, weekend movie nights and character appearances, holiday events, the 5K Throo the Zoo Run/Walk and the annual “World’s Largest Halloween Party!”

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el paso zoo launches palm oil app

The El Paso Zoo launched a mobile app designed to help people make the right choice when shopping for groceries and personal care products.  Palm oil production is killing orangutans, elephants and other endangered animals around the world as their tropical rainforest habitat is destroyed by expanding palm oil plantations, the largest cause of deforestation in Indonesia and other equatorial countries.

The free Palm Oil Guide &Scanner app, sponsored by the El Paso Zoological Society, helps consumers in the United States find out what products contain palm oil so that they can make an informed decision – purchasing a product containing palm oil or a similar product without palm oil.

You can be part of the solution to this crisis by downloading and using this app, available for iPhones and Android devices here. To learn more about El Paso Zoo’s mission to protect tropical habitats by reducing palm oil usage, visit their information page.



What can you do with a pallet?  As our teams have experienced, just about anything you can think of!

Maryland Zoo's Weasel Ball table

Maryland Zoo’s Weasel Ball table

The amazing life of a pallet is being chronicled at multiple SSA accounts across the country.  What once was an item just taken to the junkyard is now a resource for many accounts, and they offer these pallets a new life.   Upcycling, or the process of converting waste materials into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value, has become quite popular.

The SSA team at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, with the construction of Adirondack chairs, started this trend back in 2011. The team recently expanded their building projects to include retail fixtures, such as a monkey tree, promotional fixtures, and other retail spill out units.

NEWS JAN2014 - eco pallet 2

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s vertical pallet planter

At Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the culinary team created a simple, but effective, vertical pallet planter.  The planter is a fun visual for their rooftop garden area and is an experiment to see how things grow in this space.

SSA’s team at the Albuquerque BioPark used repurposed pallets to create a new Eco Wall in the Cottonwood Café and for the cash line/culinary stations.  General Manager Annie Fedora noted that her team has adopted the internal mission of the zoo’s Our Actions Matter philosophy.  “We can’t think of a

better way to say it than with these pallets.   This is also a terrific example of our collaboration with the zoo as the design of the area and purchase of the equipment was a coordinated effort,” she added.

Albuquerque BioPark's Cottonwood Cafe

Albuquerque BioPark’s Cottonwood Cafe

Other accounts have repurposed pallets into sandwich board signs and catering displays.



As part of its Greenprint sustainability plan, the Detroit Zoo has completed a 14-month energy efficiency improvement project.  The $2 million project, which began in September 2012, promises to save the Zoo nearly $275,000 in annual utility costs.  The energy efficiency upgrades span more than 50 zoo buildings and include installation of additional utility meters and low-flow toilets as well as rooftop unit upgrades and boiler control upgrades.  Also, electronic controls installed in various animal habitats where water runs non-stop will save tens of thousands of dollars annually.

In addition to this initiative, the SSA team at the Detroit Zoo was recognized by Terracycle (an organization that takes typical refuse and turns it into functional product) as a top contributor and national contest winner for Juice Pouch recycling. The team turned in more that 16,000 empty Capri Sun juice pouches in 2013 (and as a note, they have collected close to 35,000 over the last two years!).   Their contest prize included several totes made from Capri Sunpouches, which were excitedly received.  Andrew Fischer, SSA’s National Green Team Chairman, expressed his pleasure in congratulations to the Detroit team.



NEWS JAN2014 - kids4nature-1

Guests vote with recycled washers

More than 181,400 zoo guests voted with recycled washers to help direct more than $80,000 to conservation programs as part of the Kids4Nature project at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The program was launched in May 2013 to connect zoo guests to global conservation activities.  On every visit, zoo guests received a recycled metal washer, which was used to “vote” for one of three conservation projects at the kiosk. Each vote helped determine the amount of funding directed to each project.  The most votes went to saving African Lions. Kids4Nature supports Living with Lions, a group of researchers and Maasai warriors working in Kenya to save wild lions living outside of protected national parks and reserves.

The SSA Retail Team supports conservation programs with its Round-up for Conservation initiative, where guests are asked to round-up their gift shop purchases to the next whole dollar. Dimes, quarters and other coins add up quickly, and the zoo is appreciative of this additional conservation support.

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NEWs JAN2014 - IAAPA Brass Ring LogoApproximately 29,000 amusement park and attractions industry professionals, including several SSA executives, packed the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida for the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo last November.  As part of this event, IAAPA nominates attractions in several categories, honoring the industry’s best and brightest, recognizing winners with the Brass Ring Award.

Monterey Bay Aquarium was recognized for it's custom Otter plush, made in the USA

Monterey Bay Aquarium was recognized for SSA’s custom Otter plush, made in the USA

Among the 2013 nominees were several SSA partners. Monterey Bay Aquarium was a finalist in two categories:  Best Hard Good Souvenir, over one million in attendance, and Best Merchandise Display.  In the Marketing category, the Minnesota Zoo was a finalist in the Best Radio Commercial and Best Television CommercialUtah’s Hogle Zoo was also a finalist in the Best Television Commercial category.  Congratulations to all our partners that were recognized for their outstanding achievements!

NEWS JAN2014 - three logo

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Mary and Kevin McNicholas

Mary and Kevin McNicholas

The 2nd annual T. Kevin McNicholas Foundation’s Fall Celebration was an evening of retro fun in an urban setting.  The fundraiser celebrated Kevin McNicholas’ 76th birthday with a Route 76 theme.  Cater Rendezvous, the SSA’s catering arm at the History Colorado Center, prepared comfort food with an elegant twist, such as quail egg hash browns, lobster pot pie, an oyster bar and a home-made custard station with retro candy toppings. The evening’s entertainment included Denver sensation Maestro Hughes and the Juke Box Boys.

Denver’s newest food truck, Craft, an SSA creation, served late night mini-donuts and coffee.

NEWS JAN2014 - food truckThe soiree, planned by the TKM Board, helped the Foundation build its endowment, allowing the Foundation to extend its outreach to more high schools, trade schools and colleges/universities in the community and region.

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November 23rd was a special day for many SSA employees at the Cincinnati Zoo who happily donated their time to local charities.  For the third year in a row, General Manager Steve Wells, his family, and Assistant Catering Manager Carla Albrinck-Kacher helped pack over 77,000 meals for Hands Against Hunger.  These meals were shipped to South America, Africa, Europe and the Philippines (recently devastated by Typhoon Haiyan).  This year, Assistant General Manager Steve Schurr and Base Camp Café Lead Chell Nared joined the group.

Assistant GM Steve Schurr helps fill meal boxes for Hands Against Hunger

Assistant GM Steve Schurr helps fill meal boxes for Hands Against Hunger

On that same day, Sous Chef Brad Robertson, Catering Manager Spencer Garon, Assistant Catering Manager Laura Longo, Visual Merchandising Manager Caitlin Davis, Culinary Lead Amanda Flanagan and Cody Kavesh donated their time to pack 285 Thanksgiving meals for every student’s family at Rockdale Academy, a local school near and dear to the zoo community.   It’s reported that the families couldn’t believe the enormous amount of love and support.  Some of the kids came with their parents to pick up their boxes, and the smiles on their faces could not have been bigger.  One student said she had never had a full turkey before and couldn’t wait to eat it.  Another boy insisted on carrying his own turkey to the car because he was so excited.  But perhaps the most touching story was that of Mr. Williams, the school’s amazing plant operator.  When he and his kids picked up their meal, they informed us that the mother of his kids died the night before after a long battle with cancer. He was heartbroken of course, and couldn’t thank us enough for coming in at a time of one of his greatest needs.  He said he honestly had no idea how he was going to give his kids Thanksgiving without this gesture of community support.


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Cha Cha brings smiles to kids at El Paso Children’s Hospital

Cha Cha brings smiles to kids at El Paso Children’s Hospital

Making a difference for the kids at the El Paso Children’s Hospital was a holiday goal for the SSA Retail Team at El Paso Zoo.  It started when the team created and posted a sign promoting a program where guests could buy a $5 plush monkey to be given to the kids at the hospital.  In exchange, purchasers received an entry to win an El Paso Zoo sweatshirt.

In mid-December, the team delivered over 55 plush animals to the kids at the hospital.  The team placed a small ribbon around each animal’s wrist with a tag bearing the name of the person who had bought the plush, adding a personal touch.  Cha Cha, the Santa Tiger, accompanied the team on their delivery from room to room.  He created smiles and laughter with his dancing and tail swinging.  The kids were able to get their photo taken with a “super cool” Santa tiger that lives at the zoo.

Assistant Retail Operations Manager Zevanda Borjon said, “This was a great experience for all of us. The smiles on their faces are priceless! We will definitely make this an annual tradition.”


The SSA Culinary Team at the Reid Park Zoo experienced their biggest December yet, with double the number of catered events as compared to 2012. Also, the team hosted a holiday cart, featuring cocoa, cookies and cinnamon rolls, during the 17-day Holiday Lights at the Zoo event.


The Minnesota Zoo SSA Retail team joined in the holiday spirit by offering each family a 25%-off coupon to be used in the gift shop on the day they attended the zoo’s popular Snack with Santa.  The event is held on the December weekends before Christmas.  Also, military personnel could visit the zoo free during the month of December and the retail team offered families a 10% shopping discount.


The Detroit Zoo lit up the night for the first time in nearly a decade with Wild Lights, a spectacular holiday light display.  For 24 nights, more than two million twinkling LED lights brightened the evening sky and illuminated buildings, animal sculptures and trees through the front of the zoo.

The SSA team supported the event by offering seasonal refreshments, holiday spirits, photos with Santa, Wild Lights souvenirs and zoo-themed holiday gifts.

The zoo last held Wild Lights in 2004, but it was discontinued because it had become too costly and was not energy efficient.  However, the increased use of LEDs on holiday lighting provided an eco-friendly alternative.   A 100-bulb string of traditional lights uses the same electricity as 42 100-bulb strings of LED lights.  In addition, the zoo recycled and refurbished many of the light sculptures from previous Wild Lights.

“The Detroit Zoo is a magical place in winter and it is even more so in the glow of holiday lights,” says Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director and CEO.  “Our hope is that Wild Lights will again become a holiday tradition for thousands of families in the community.”

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Partner happenings


Six Chilean flamingo chicks recently hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo.   The fluffy, gray youngsters (three male and three female) range in age from 1 to 4 ½ months. These chicks are the first Chilean flamingo chicks to hatch at the zoo in over 10 years. Previously, the zoo had a mixed flock containing Chilean and Caribbean flamingos in one habitat that didn’t allow for breeding.  The chicks were produced utilizing a new breeding technique for the zoo that allows the flamingos to have access to both on and off-display areas of their habitat during the breeding season.


A female Masai giraffe calf was born in the early morning hours of December 13 at the Nashville Zoo.


The newest resident at the Dallas Zoo is a giant anteater residing in the habitat in ZooNorth.  The new exhibit features a large grassy area with a pool for swimming, sand and mulch for digging and trees and old logs for poking around in search of ant treats.


An endangered Coquerel’s sifaka was recently born at the Houston Zoo.  It was mama Zenobia’s fourth baby. This medium-sized lemur is endemic to Madagascar.


construction updates

The 24-year-old historic Elinor Friend Playground at the San Francisco Zoo was recently updated and now includes 36,000 square feet of one-of-a-kind new play space.  It represents three distinct bio-regions:  River Play area, Polar Zone and a Banyan Tree climbing structure.


The elephant viewing pavilion at the Honolulu Zoo was recently dedicated with a ceremony that included songs and hulas by local students.  The pavilion was funded by the Watumull family in honor of David Watumull.



In celebration of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium’s 50th Anniversary at the St. Louis Science Center, the switch has been “flipped on” to light the iconic planetarium in brilliant colors for 2013 and beyond.


Reviewers say that Riverbanks Zoo and Garden: Forty Wild Years intentionally is a hybrid – as much a history book as a coffee-table book.

Satch Krantz, the zoo’s CEO, co-authored the book with Monique Blanchette Jacobs. Krantz started working on the project about five years ago when he decided to put together a short autobiography for his own family members as he had been at the zoo since before it opened, starting right after graduating from Clemson.

When USC Press asked him to write something for the zoo’s 40th anniversary, he used this information.  The book was available at the zoo’s gift shops for the first few weeks, but was available at other shops after the first of the year.

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