Wild Connections: August 2014


Tim and Mary 2

Mary Healy, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Sacramento Zoo for almost 15 years, died unexpectedly August 7 while traveling to the Galapagos Islands. She was 61. Mary was headed to the Galapagos Islands on business and vacation with her husband Steve to see animals in the wild and their habitats.

The Sacramento Zoo began its partnership with SSA in 1997.

Tim Brantley, SSA PCEO said, “I was deeply saddened to learn the news of Mary’s passing. I will forever value and think about our time together, whether we were talking about exotic wildlife (mostly birds), playing golf or just walking the zoo, it was always a very special time with Mary!   She was truly a gift and beloved by many.”

Healy joined the Sacramento Zoo in December 1999 with extensive experience at traditional zoos in Texas and South Carolina and a Disney animal park. She oversaw construction of a full-scale veterinary hospital and renovations of habitats for many animals, including a $2 million update of the giraffe yard and a $175,000 exhibit for North American river otters.

Widely respected in the professional community, she was a board member and former Chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and served on the accreditation commission. She was President of the California Association of Zoos and Aquariums and was one of nine international council members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Healy earned a psychology degree from State University of New York in Binghamton. She started her career in 1975 as a bird keeper and rose to assistant curator of birds at Riverbanks Park in Columbia, S.C. After seven years as curator of birds at the San Antonio Zoo in Texas, she spent nine years as director of Discovery Island Zoological Park at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

A public memorial is planned September 20 at the zoo in William Land Park.




The Maryland Zoo’s 2014 Exchange Workers Smiling for the Camera

When visiting the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore this summer, guests were probably greeted with the phrase: sawasdee, which is Thai for hello. For the past couple of years, several students from Thailand have come to the zoo to work for SSA while getting a taste of American culture.

SSA General Manager Jenna Parker said hiring international employees helps fills in the gaps in a tough job market.  “We strive to hire and cultivate local employees but often we struggle meeting the high demands of our peak season,” she added, “hiring these students allow us to focus our efforts on providing a world class experience for each and every guest that visits the Maryland Zoo.”

2014 was the third year that the zoo worked with Cultural Homestay International (CHI) to hire employees. There have been 18 Thai students and two Serbian students, who worked both in 2012 and 2013. They work in the zoo’s culinary department.

Ivan Stankovic, a 24-year-old student from Belgrade, Serbia, shared that he had a great experience working for SSA as they accepted them and had a lot of understanding. “We met a lot of good, funny people while we were working there! I have a lot of great, funny memories, but a lot of hard working memories too!” he said.

With a special work visa, the students can stay and work three months. They live in rental housing, which is arranged by CHI.

Prospective employers work with the agency to recruit the students by filling out a detailed questionnaire. Also an agency Regional Employment Service Manager follows up by visiting and taking the time to understand exactly what the needs are.

A few years ago, Jenna had the opportunity to travel to Serbia to help recruit employees. She said it was an amazing experience. “Words can’t describe how amazing the whole experience was for me and for the students!” she added.

Due to the success of the program at the Maryland Zoo, the Denver Zoo hired two students, Mohammad Alqubelat and Mohammad Mfarrej, from Jordan this summer.  SSA General Manager Tony Smith said overall the program was a success. “I would say it took some time on both sides to get comfortable, but now, it’s like clockwork, but who doesn’t need that time to get acquainted / comfortable in a new job / role,” he added.  He plans on participating in the program next year.

Mohammad Al-Qubelat said he was thankful for this amazing opportunity and was glad that he got to be a part of the SSA team. He added that he enjoyed working with talented management, but he also got the opportunity to see animals that he never imagined he would be able to see.

The Maryland Zoo exchange students include Klinon Kamolthorn; Kumpoung Pulaporn; Deesuwan Pasuree; Jaithamdee Jarupa; Anantasattakul Phanthitra; Buasuwan Teerarat; Warisara Chuamvarasart; Sirikul Phucharoen; Klanarong Mongkolsirichaikul; Teerapat Chamruspanth; Apiwat Deekongsiang;  Sutthawe Jitjingjai; Nattaratee Lankam; Iyaporn Saengsawang; Jirat Saksrikrom; Wachirawit Watcharakhom; Pongsakorn Wongkittithorn; Pimharueda Yeenang; Milos Kovacevic and Ivan Stankovic.

The program provides SSA with needed employees during peak seasons even though SSA tries to hire and cultivate local employees, there’s often a struggle to meet the high demands. Also the students, employees, guests and clients get to experience other cultures. Jenna said, “It’s fantastic to watch the local kids form relationships with the visiting students that last a life time.”




Chris and Neil strategizing and game planning

If you ask Chris Searle, how he spent his summer, he’ll enthusiastically reply: gaining hands-on experience! Chris was the sixth summer intern that Neil Almalbis has hired at the Detroit Zoo. And this year, Chris was assigned to create a campaign to raise $10,000 for conservation at the zoo. Due to Chris’ creativity and enthusiasm, SSA employees raised even more than that! He created Zero to Hero, a unique team building challenge that gave employees the opportunity to work together to create and then execute an entrepreneurial fundraising idea. It was named Zero to Hero in celebration of Retail’s 2014 theme to be everyday heroes to our guests.

The soon-to-be college senior at Central Michigan University, who’s majoring in advertising, planned six fundraising events, ranging from in-restaurant fundraisers to a bowling party to a Detroit Tigers baseball promotion, as part of the Zero to Hero campaign. However, the biggest money-raiser event was probably the easiest to organize. Called Penny Wars, the game was a competition among the SSA departments: Culinary, Grounds, Retail and Catering.

The object was to get as many points as possible during the “war.” During the two-week contest, each team had a large water jug and earned one point for every penny in the container. Others could put silver coins and paper currency in other departments’ containers as part of their sabotage strategy. Each silver coin or bill reduced the number of points from that container by the amount of the coin. For example, a nickel reduced the points by five, a dime by ten, a dollar by 100, etc. It was

Neil count all of their hard earned money

Neil count all of their hard earned money

a fundraiser where everyone could afford to contribute. As you can imagine, it became a “war” between the departments.

Chris said the purpose of each fundraiser was not only to raise money, but also to help morale and unite the various departments – all while having fun.

Neil added that these fundraisers not only benefited the zoo, but also the 300 plus SSA employees as the events attracted and united employees and their family and friends from different departments and, in the instance, of the Penny Wars, everyone could afford to contribute something.

He reported that the zoo management was highly supportive of this Zero to Hero program.



SSA recently announced a long-term partnership with the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park to become the exclusive provider of culinary and retail services at the Park.

SSA hosted it's 2014 Executive Retreat at the Royal Gorge. Check out some of the cool team building activities they participated in.

SSA hosted it’s 2014 Executive Retreat at the Royal Gorge. Check out some of the cool team building activities they participated in.

Located two hours south of Denver and 45 minutes southwest of Colorado Springs, the 360-acre Royal Gorge Bridge & Park has entertained over 26 million guests with awe-inspiring panoramic views during its 85 years. The centerpiece of the Park is the Royal Gorge Bridge, which stands 956 feet above the Arkansas River, making it one of the highest suspension bridges in the world. It’s on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The Park withstood the effects of a major wildfire in 2013 that destroyed 48 of the 52 structures, including an aerial tram, antique carousel and the park’s visitor center. Fortunately, the bridge escaped with only minor damage.   After months of demolition and planning, the first rebuilding phase of the park opened late summer. Phase one includes a 14,000-square-foot visitor’s center with an entry, a gift shop and a 210-seat restaurant. The theme for the design centers on the unique Colorado look that uses wood, lots of glass and natural materials in the buildings. Also opening is the Royal Rush Skycoaster, which will release harnessed riders from a 100-foot tower, momentarily suspending them 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River, then doing a free-fall at up to 50 mph with nothing between them and the canyon floor.




Firefighters Rush into the SSA Offices to Make Sure Everyone is Safe

On July 11th, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo experienced a small (or not so small) electrical fire in the SSA office area below the main Gift Shop.  Unfortunately the offices, gift shop and all shop inventory suffered smoke damage. However, the SSA staff came together in one day to set up a temporary gift shop with help from the Denver Zoo.  Area General Manger Todd Langfield said “SSA’s culture shined through as executives, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Team and Denver Zoo Team joined forces to ensure our business was as uninterrupted as possible.”

He added, “Amazingly the Temporary Gift Shop filled with 100% new inventory brought in from Denver did over $8,000 the day after the fire.”  The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff has also had to work quickly to set up temporary offices, warehouse and more.  The zoo hopes to have construction repairs completed by the first of November.




The Cincinnati Retail Team Prepares to Put Some Smiles on Some Well Deserving Peoples Faces

On two occasions the SSA Cincinnati Zoo Team provided lunch and breakfast for the families currently utilizing the local, non-profit, Ronald McDonald House.  The Ronald McDonald House cares for 78 guest families every night, providing them with a “home away from home” while their children receive medical treatment.  Over one month, the Cincinnati Zoo Retail Team collected and donated 475 plush toys from Cincinnati Zoo patrons for the children living at the Ronald McDonald House.  While volunteering the SSA staff got to play with the children and were given a tour of the facility.  Many reported that it was a truly impactful and memorable experience for all involved.




Riverbanks Zoo & Garden recently hosted its annual Brew at the Zoo. Named one of Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events, a record number of guests this year enjoyed live music, 55+brands of beer, including three local Columbia, SC breweries and variety of southern fare. SSA entertained VIPs in the newly renovated Tuskers Restaurant with a private beer tasting overlooking the Alligator Lagoon. The night’s menu, designed by Executive Chef Adam Milledge, included mini duck and chevre goat cheese pizzas, bison sliders stuffed with Havarti cheese, bourbon bacon and shitake mushrooms and mini French toast rolls served with fruit compotes and maple syrup for dessert. Also, SSA staff offered pretzels with homemade beer cheese throughout the park, as well as tried and true local classics, such as BBQ pulled pork sandwiches topped with mustard BBQ sauce and kettle chips.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 1.44.07 PM

Check out this short video which features the Hogles Zoos New African Savanna Exhibit. The food served was amazing!

To celebrate the new $16 million African Savanna Exhibit at Utah’s Hogle Zoo, the SSA Culinary team catered a VIP event that left many talking.

The Albuquerque BioPark Culinary Team took their experience into outdoor kitchens for a hands-on, up close teaching experience for New Mexico Biopark Society members. They showcased how an entire meal can be prepared using a backyard grill and everything that was prepared was served. The menu included: grilled romaine salad; grilled trout w/ lemon, herbs, and chiles and asparagus; grilled elk sliders w/ juniper ketchup and smashed new potatoes and grilled pound cake with grilled peaches.

Wild About Wine events were un-corked three times this summer at the Cincinnati Zoo. Each tasting took place in different locations throughout the zoo.  Guests enjoyed unique wine sampling, food-by-the-bite from local restaurants, live music, up-close animal encounters and more.


SSA Team Cincinnati ACCEPTS the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Brrr . . .

The Cincinnati Zoo SSA Management team was called out by Zoo Director Thane Maynard and Dave Jenike and Mark Fisher of the Executive Cincinnati Zoo Team to take part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  SSA GLADLY accepted!

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 11.55.40 AM

Are You Ready For the ALS Challenge?

While hosting its end of the season employee appreciation party, we allowed the Operations Supervisors and Leads to do the “pouring.”  As you can imagine, this was a huge hit among the staff and an excellent way to end the 2014 Summer Season with a bang.  In turn, the team challenged Brett Taylor and the SSA team at Louisville Zoo and Steve Schurr and the SSA team at the Pittsburgh Zoo to the same, chilly challenge.  We’re still awaiting the videos (and donations!)

SSA Team Cincinnati Managers that took part in the challenge (From left to right):
Area General Manager Steve Wells; Retail Operations Manager Lisa Banks; Park Operations Manager Assistant Operations Manager Rob McNamara; Cash Control Manage, Cara Berding; Assistant Operations Manager Alex McIntyre; Operations Manager Caitlin Davis; Unit Controller Carla Albrinck-Kacher; Sous Chef Andrew Ruehmer; Assistant General Manager Jordan Miller; Assistant Catering Manager Tori Witzke and Executive Chef, Brian McCorkell.



The Tulsa Zoo’s attendance topped 622,000 guests during its 2013-14 fiscal year, marking a milestone for the zoo. This attendance total is the second-highest in the zoo’s 85-year history, just shy of the 669,928 guests who attended the zoo in 1997 after the opening of the Tropical American Rainforest.

Dallas Zoo’s do-over Dollar Day was a success. Over 35,000 people walked through the gates to break an all-time attendance record, surpassing the previous attendance record of 34,929 on a Dollar Day in July 2008. After heavy rain ruined Dollar Day July 19, the zoo decided to schedule a second one Tuesday, August 19.

The Cincinnati Zoo team celebrates a record crowd of 23,888 on Dollar Day and SSA food & retail sales saw an increase of $37,000 over the previous year.


Riverbanks Zoo and Garden was recently voted as the “Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners!” in the 25th anniversary of the readers’ poll sponsored by Free-Times.

Several partners received Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium grants from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. These competitive grants are supported through a special gift from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

The Nature Play grants provide financial, logistical and creative support for zoos and aquariums seeking to increase or enhance family-centered nature experiences in their communities. Winners include: Buffalo Zoo, Nature Play Begins in the Niagara Frontier; Dallas Zoo, Wild FUN (Families United in Nature); Detroit Zoological Society, Zoo Tots Outside; The Living Desert, Me and You at the Gardens; Minnesota Zoo, Hanifl Family Wild Woods Nature Play Program Pilot; Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Families Untamed: Zoo Nature Club and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Backpack to Nature.


AutryAt the Autry Center, the Route 66 exhibition includes Burma Shave signs from the 1950s. The company’s advertising campaign featured a poem on consecutive small signs that could be read as one drove down the highway. Do you remember seeing these signs during road trips?

The Detroit Zoo is going to the birds. Zoo officials recently announced that a $29.5 million, 33,000 square-foot penguin exhibit will be built and will open by 2015. It is the largest project the zoo has ever undertaken and will be home to 80 penguins of four species.

Minnesota Zoo recently broke ground on a 30,000-square-foot nature-based outdoor play area. The $1.2 million project is the next step in the reinvention of the zoo’s Crossroads Park.


BuffaloAt the Buffalo Museum of Science, Artifacts is the newest permanent science studio features a selection of incredible artifacts from the museum’s anthropology collections and explores the similarities across cultures as evidenced by the objects we create. Artifacts include ancient eating utensils from around the world and how different Peoples used the written word via chisel, pictures or stylized scripts to document their lives. The exhibit also uses touch screen technology to get interactive lessons about the collections and where they care from, when and how they were used and even the materials used to create them.






Historic Birth of Indian Rhino at Buffalo Zoo

The Buffalo Zoo is celebrating the birth of a female Indian rhino calf produced by artificial insemination. The rhino calf, weighing in at 144 pounds, was born to mother Tashi on June 5. She is the first offspring for a male rhino who never contributed to the genetics of the Indian rhino population during his lifetime – a major victory for endangered species around the world and a lifetime of work in the making. The calf’s father, Jimmy, died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2004 and was dead for nearly a decade before the AI procedure took place.  Over the course of those nine years, Jimmy’s sperm was stored at -320°F in CREW’s CryoBioBank™ in Cincinnati, before it was taken to Buffalo, thawed and used in the AI.


A blue-billed curassow recently hatched at Zoo Miami. This is the second hatching of this highly endangered species at the zoo. Only about 250 individuals are believed to remain in the wild, making it one of the most critically endangered species of birds in the world.


A female giraffe calf was born August 3 at the Houston Zoo. Named Kamili, the calf became the 10th animal in the herd. Newborn calves can nearly double their height during the first of being born.

Two male jaguar cubs were recently born at The Living Desert. They were the first every jaguar cubs born at the facility.

The Minnesota Zoo’s four furry Canada lynx kittens recently made their first public appearance.

The kittens, two males and two females, were born May 6. Canada lynx are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This litter is the third born at the zoo in five years.

Mondika, a baby gorilla born at Cincinnati Zoo on August 4, will be nicknamed Mona.

Three Malayan tiger cubs were born August 8 at the Tulsa Zoo. The species is native to the Malay Peninsula, and it’s the national animal of Malaysia, but there are fewer than 500 in the wild because of habitat loss and poaching, the release states. The cubs’ birth was the second successful event for the parents.




Semba recently gave birth to the first elephant calf at the Reid Park Zoo.  Keepers call her a big baby girl because she weighed in at 245 pounds.

On Key

Related Posts

Cultural Attraction Trends to Look for in 2024

In the new year, keep an eye out for some of the movements that are shaping our industry.  Retail The revival of physical stores is offering unique, immersive in-store experiences.  SSA’s Community Tables and Marketplace

Our Top Stories of 2023

As we enter 2024, let’s reflect on our top stories from the last year. Here’s a recap of our top 3 blogs that resonated the most with you!  1. “Table Stakes for Cultural Attractions in

Meet Our Partner: The Konery

Who doesn’t love a waffle cone? But have you had one that is Birthday Cake flavor? Or Toasted Coconut?   Meet The Konery, a partner to SSA and our many zoo, museum and aquarium attractions across