Wild Connections: Spring Recap

In this issue: Partner Profile -- Frank Cartieri, new Partner Louisville Zoo, Conservation Corner, Holiday Festivities and more.
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Tim Brantley, a 38-year SSA veteran, is focused on the future as he completes his first year as CEO. Here’s what he had to say about his past and what the future holds for SSA.

What are your top priorities as CEO? 

We are really focused on three main priorities. The first is always delivering improved financial results to our various partners. The second is accelerating our transformation, which is a journey that we’ve been on for some time. We will continue to invest and enable our people to make decisions that helps SSA maintain our marketshare in zoos, aquariums, and cultural attractions across the country. The third is ensuring our teams are energized to serve our guests every day. That was a priority yesterday and will be a priority today and tomorrow. Our most important job is to serve our guests and partners.

What's Your
What’s Your “WHY”Tim recently asked SSA’s GM’s and Operational Managers what motivates them? And while the answers won’t shock you, you’ll enjoy the way they communicated their answers.What can employees and partners expect to see from SSA in the future?

In addition, I’d like to see an even more flexible SSA! Our GMs and operators have always been encouraged to be entrepreneurial, but now, we’re not only encouraging it, we’re demanding it. In order for us to continue growing and innovating, we need our team members to drive the bus. Furthermore, I want to ensure that SSA remains one of the top companies with regards to embracing a fun and engaging culture.

What gets you most excited about the next chapter at SSA?

We are laser focused on changing and evolving, but at our core, SSA is about providing great service and products at a great value. If we do that, we will prosper. How we deliver for our guests is the exciting part because patrons expectations are changing so rapidly. But giving our guests great service and products at a great price is at the heart of everything.

You personally have played several different roles throughout your time at SSA. Which role has been the most formative?

Probably my most formative role was that of becoming a servant leader. And still to this day, being such continues to be my number one goal and objective.  Over time, this philosophical discipline has become the essence of our culture, the driving force of our passion, and the hallmark of our organization.



The first-ever Palm Oil Symposium for North American zoos and aquariums was recently hosted by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in conjunction with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  The event brought together zoo and aquarium professionals and key conservationists to address issues surrounding the palm oil crisis, such as achieving sustainability, supporting improvements to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), how to stop deforestation for the production of palm oil and  engaging zoo audiences in the palm oil crisis. The symposium was initiated and planned by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff, which has been focusing on raising awareness of the palm oil crisis since 2007. Service Systems Associates helped sponsor the event.

In 2010, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was the first zoo to create a printed sustainable palm oil shopping guide. In 2010, the zoo was the first zoo in the world to join the RSPO, and in 2013, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo developed and launched a sustainable palm oil shopping guide app for smart phones. Two members of the zoo’s staff, Dina Bredahl and Tracy Gazibara, are on the AZA Palm Oil Crisis Task Force. The zoo will continue to empower other AZA zoos and zoo guests to take a stand for animals being threatened and endangered due to non-sustainable palm oil.

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The winners in the Best US Zoo contest included the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden taking third place honors; seventh place was the Houston Zoo, followed by the Dallas ZooUSA Today sponsored the contest, and the winners were selected by the number of votes garnered.  Voting topped all previous contests. After a four-week period of voting, the Toledo Zoo took top honor.

The 20 finalist zoos were selected by the newspaper’s editorial team based on total acreage, annual attendance, the cost of admission, each zoo’s contributions to wildlife conservation efforts, the number of supporting members each has, and recent industry awards which were won.  Other finalists included the Denver Zoo, Louisville Zoo, Minnesota Zoo and Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C.

For the second year in a row, Thanksgiving Point has been awarded TripAdvisor‘s Certificate of Excellence.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden was awarded a Sustainability Excellence Award in the facilities category and an Excellence in Exhibition Award for their esteemed Jungle Trails Exhibit from the American Alliance of Museums.

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Hard work paid off in selecting a variety of unique items for the Tentacles Gift Shop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

By Andrew Fischer, Area GM

The Monterey Bay Aquarium recently opened an amazing new Tentacles exhibit that features octopuses, squid, cuttlefishes and nautiluses.   This exhibit displays creatures that many of the over 1.9 million visitors to the aquarium have never seen before, and is a first of its kind.   In some cases, these cephalopods live only a few months, so the exhibit collection will be shifting as new animals are presented while others are removed.

Tentacles is the newest exhibit to open at Monterey Bay Aquarium.  The $3.5 million exhibit also combines live specimens of squid, octopus and other little-seen cephalopods with examples of ancient pottery and modern literature that reflect the cultural bond humans have had with these sea dwellers for centuries.

To support this special exhibit, the Aquarium Gift and Bookstore Buying Team has been working for over a year on product research and development with the Aquarium’s Exhibits and Husbandry Team to make sure the merchandise offered would tie in and support this magnificent exhibit.

Buyer Tammy Keener visited trade shows from New York to Las Vegas, searching for products that range from both unusual and handcrafted to elegant and engaging.   “The octopus is a very popular animal currently in gifts and jewelry, but finding that right item requires a keen eye and a plan for store space and merchandising,” she said.  Some of the merchandise offers a strong apparel and accessory presence, and creating the right items with a diverse collection takes time and focus.  A selection of items was custom made, including new cuttlefish and octopus plush that is part of the MBA Signature Collection.

For Spring Break, the Aquarium and SSA coordinated on rebranding the Jellies store to be the new Tentacles store with an exterior chromatophoric makeover.  A variety of exhibit related items, including guest favorite octopus fingers, pens and puppets, make this an exciting time in the store for guests and staff alike.    In the main store, many new items have been merchandised on feature tables, including a ladies nautilus collection, kid’s octopus and squid products and a new stunning line of giftware with handcrafted octopus and squid items.

The early response from guests has been tremendous, with opening weekend sales surpassing previous new exhibits by over 20%.

The opening week of Spring Break has seen cuttlefish and nautilus product, animals that are not seen in many aquariums, leading a charge of new and interesting creatures that are sure to capture the imagination and wonder for guests this summer and for years to come.



In its culinary operations, SSA works with its partners to offer dining options that complement the overall guest experience.  At both the Dallas and Riverbanks Zoos, SSA made dining improvements, including new and renovated food and beverage locations as well as offering healthier menu items.  SSA staff at both zoos are committed to source local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients, provide varied and balanced food options and buy locally.

At the Dallas Zoo, the exterior of the Wilds of Africa Grill Shack was renovated to reflect a western theme, complete with a new façade and shade coverings over the ordering area. The menu was changed to offer an assortment of gourmet hamburgers, which zoo director Gregg Hudson claims are the best he has ever eaten in a zoo! The Sergenti Pizza Kitchen improved its speed of service and guest satisfaction while producing an awesome pizza. Staff also converted storage space into BBQ and beer location.  It’s open Thursday-Sunday.


Riverbanks Zoo SSA staff closed Kenya Café’s doors on October 31 and reopened as Tusker’s on March 15.  While the exterior received a new paint job and other minor changes, the interior of the café was completely gutted; even the entrance and exit doors were moved.  The result was a “T”-shape line that provides quicker, more organized service.  Also, seating increased from 120 to 190 – 230 seats.  By adding a back deck to the building, additional seating resulted as well as a great view of several African exhibits.

The new menu includes fresh made-to-order salads, hand-battered chicken tenders, 100% Angus beef burgers, artisan sandwiches and pizza. Starbucks Coffee and iced coffee drinks also available.

The SSA team is aiming to get a 4.0 Green Restaurant Association Certification.

Dining is a key element of the guest experience, and SSA believes it’s important to elevate food and beverage offerings by providing a variety of menu items in well-designed, yet comfortable surroundings.


Solar All it takes is an idea.  And last year, SSA Operations Manager Christopher Beresford at the Detroit Zoo had a big one.  The idea was to go solar with the culinary cart program.   The team was tired of dealing with all of the power problems on a day to day basis.  So by brainstorming outside the box, the idea to harness the sun to produce usable energy bloomed.   And over the winter, the team plotted the implementation of this idea.  Now that crazy idea has become a reality and the team has had success.  The cart that sold refillable water bottles at the zoo’s annual Green Fest was run 100% solar for two days. At another zoo-sponsored event, Meet Your Best Friend takes place in the zoo’s parking lot where there is no power.  For the past three years, a gas generator powered the cart.  This year, the sun powered the cart for two days, for a run time of 18 hours.  The team is now converting other carts, such as the Backyard Lemonade cart.

By replacing fossil fuel with solar power, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions is decreased, resulting in a reduced carbon footprint.


Service systems ASSOCIATES New conservation Initiatives 

Tim & SeanOne of the Denver Zoo’s conservation projects involves helping to save the critically endangered Lake Titicaca frog.   It is the largest entirely aquatic amphibian in the world and can weigh over two pounds!  Even the frog’s habitat is special.  The frogs only live in Lake Titicaca in South America.  This high alpine lake is larger than the state of Delaware and is shared between the countries of Peru and Bolivia.  Lake Titicaca is over 12,500 feet high.

The Lake Titicaca frog is in danger. Poachers catch the frogs and sell them to vendors in the capital city of Lima and other population centers where the frogs are blended with other ingredients to make “frog smoothies” consumed for a variety of supposed health benefits.  Pollution, habitat loss, disease and the introduction of non-native trout and kingfish into Lake Titicaca are other reasons why this amphibian is critically endangered.
PeruDuring the past two years, SSA has been working with the Denver Zoo’s conservation program that works directly with the people who live near the lake to create sustainable economic opportunities that reduce the motivation behind poaching of the frogs.  This program provides training and equipment that enables participants to make beautiful handmade knitted items, such as caps, scarves and toy frogs.  SSA purchases the finished items at mutually agreed upon prices to sell in the Denver Zoo’s gift shop.  Regular conservation education and outreach activities are also offered.  All these activities work together to encourage residents to protect the frogs.

Future plans include continuing the conservation message for zoo and aquarium guests into retail areas company-wide; all while providing an avenue for guests to help save animals and habitats.


Brad Robertson has been promoted to Executive Chef at the Los Angeles Zoo.  Previously he was Sous Chef at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Blayne Roessler has been promoted to Assistant General Manager at the Detroit Zoo.  Previously he was Operations Manager at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Minnesota Zoo Retail GM Laurel Wright recently relocated to the Columbus, Ohio, area; however, she will continue as a Regional Buyer. The new GM at the Minnesota Zoo is Dan Rought.  Also at the zoo, Justin Voth was promoted to Retail Operations Manager.  Connie Searles will continue as the Assistant Retail Operations Manager and has assumed the Payables responsibilities.

Andrew Ruehmer is the new Sous Chef for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.  Andrew is a Johnson & Wales graduate and has 11 years of culinary experience. Recently he was the Executive Chef for the Cincinnati Woman’s Club, the largest private club in Cincinnati.  He has also worked at the Mills House, Charleston, St. Regis in Aspen, The Aspen Institute and Meadows in Aspen and Squaw Valley Preserve in Olympic Valley, CA.  He has also worked notable events such as Aspen food and Wine (with Gavin Kaysen, Thomas Keller, Masaharu Morimoto and April Bloomfield), Masters Championship at Augusta National and helped produce the Season Finale of Top Chef Season 3 in Aspen.


Brad Luckinbill is the new Executive Chef at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Twenty five years ago Brad walked into a kitchen at a national restaurant chain to wash dishes. He progressed to become a corporate trainer on his 18th birthday. After realizing his love for restaurants, he enrolled in Hotel and Restaurant Management School at the University of North Texas. While in school, he worked his way through the ranks at the Radisson Hotel from Line Cook to Banquet Chef. It was there he realized he did not want to be a manager, but a chef. He decided to move to Denver to initiate an immediate change in his career. He then returned to San Diego where he worked on honing skills in preparing award-winning food with fresh ingredients.


HogleAfter 18 months of construction, the $16 million African Savanna exhibit officially opened at Utah’s Hogle Zoo.  The mixed-species exhibit — featuring giraffes, zebras, nyala, guinea fowl, geese, ostriches and four African lions — spans 4.5 acres of grass with a watering hole.

The Houston Zoo recently opened its first insectarium in the park’s 92-year history.  The two thousand square –foot exhibit features some 30 exotic and venomous species, such as black Asian forest scorpions, white-eyed assassin bugs, red-spotted longhorn beetles, a Gooty sapphire tarantulas and blue death feigning beetles.  There are more than two dozen custom habitats that make up what’s being dubbed The Bug House. In conjunction with the exhibit, zoo guests can visit the Extreme Bug exhibit featuring giant, animatronic bugs that move, spread their wings, and even spray guests with water! These bugs are up to 200 times larger than the normal size.  Guests may pay an additional fee to visit this special exhibit.

BoiseButterflies in Bloom, one of Zoo Boise’s most popular exhibits, recently returned.  Guests can stroll through a flower-filled green house as hundreds of colorful butterflies from Costa Rica fly above and around them.  Also, there’s a special dinosaur exhibit featuring six animatronic dinosaurs located throughout the zoo.

The Big Bugs! exhibit opened on Memorial Weekend at the Minnesota Zoo and runs through Labor Day.  Admission is free with Zoo Admission.  All guests must exit through the Big Bugs Store to complete their walk through the exhibit.
PretendThis summer Pretend City Children’s Museum is hosting Ultimate Recycling Machine exhibitThis large scale hands-on experience is geared toward school-aged children and combines engineering, collaboration and sustainability. The challenge is to design and build a machine, “the Ultimate Recycling Invention” that transports a plastic bottle into a recycling bin.  The challenge could be to create a roller coaster that carries a ball. It always looks different, with combinations of tube structures, zip lines, pulleys, pendulums and more. This new experience is ideal for inter-generational participation – grown-ups and children alike will be fully engaged.

HCCAt the History Colorado Center, Food: Our Global Kitchen offers a feast for the senses as guests take a fun and fascinating journey to see what and how we eat. The new exhibit, the Denver museum’s first major traveling show, is a full-sensory experience, tracing food’s journey from seed to market, kitchen to table, from early man to even Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.  In the Taste Kitchen, Colorado brands and products take center stage in a rotating schedule of themed samplings — crackers and spreads, pickles, spices, sauces, sweets, jams and jellies, juice and milk will all get their turn.

Art and spirituality converge with trade and commerce in Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork, a groundbreaking exhibition of more than 250 unique objects and personal stories at the Autry Center. The exhibition is the first of its kind to explore how beaded floral designs became a remarkable art form as well as a means of economic and cultural survival for the Native North American people. Many of the objects will be displayed to the public for the first time.




The Living Desert Zoo announced that its zebra Natalia has given birth to a 90-pound foal. This species is endangered.  A few weeks ago, two jaguar cubs were born at the facility.

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium welcomed a macaroni penguin chick. It was the first time that this bird has hatched at the zoo.  At birth, the chick weighed only a half-pound.

The native Hawaiian duck, koloa maoli, is being pushed out of existence.  A female koloa maoli recently arrived at the Honolulu Zoo. The population of the duck has been declining for years, and experts said there only about 2,500 are left in the wild.  Biologists blame excessive hunting, loss of habitat and the mallard duck for the decline.  The zoo plans to help grow the population.

Nine burrowing owl chicks have hatched at the Sacramento Zoo.  Two are inside the exhibit burrow and will start making appearances outside the nest over the next couple of months.  The other seven are being hand-raised to become outreach animals, acting as ambassadors for their wild counterparts.  They are native to North and South America and can be seen in grassy fields.  They help keep the rodent population in check.

Five warthog piglets were added to the warthog family at the Detroit Zoo, which includes nine-year-old mother Lilith, four-year-old father Linus, one-year-old sister Violet and Lilith’s sister, nine-year-old Rebecca. The quintuplets represent the second warthog birth at the Detroit Zoo in two years and are a welcome addition to the North American zoo population of warthogs, which numbers just under a hundred.

A tiny turtle is making a big splash at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. An endangered black-breasted leaf turtle hatched in the Indonesian rain forest.

“Nasha” was selected as the official name of a giraffe calf recently born at the Cincinnati Zoo.  Nasha is the Maasai word for “one who comes with the rains.”  The day Nasha was born certainly came with plenty of rain, wind and storms.  For the second time, staff at the Cincinnati Zoo (@CincinnatiZoo) live-tweeted the calf’s birth, including photos and regular updates.


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