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On September 25, Utah’s Hogle Zoo became one of the smallest institutions to host the national Association of Zoos and aquarium conference.  More than 2,000 zoo and aquarium professionals attended the four-day event.  A highlight of the social events was the Ice Breaker at the popular downtown Library Square, which is an outdoor plaza with water features and gardens that creates an urban green place.  The event was a zero-waste event for the first time in AZA history.

According to Hogle Zoo Director Craig Dinsmore SSA definitely went above and beyond in partnering with Hogle Zoo for the Annual Conference.  At the Icebreaker event in Salt Lake City’s “Library Square”, SSA not only provided a great variety of delicious food and beverage, they went so far as to theme the venue to represent different elements of Utah, from mining to ski resorts, and paired their food offerings to match each setting!   Stations included the ski industry, national parks and Utah’s history.  The ski-themed culinary station featured cocktail tables made out of skis, buffet display risers were snowboards and snow was provided by a machine.  A large red arch called attention to a station that highlighted the state’s national parks.

To make all of this possible, SSA Area General Manager Dave Sarao, SSA General Manager Seth Palmer, and the entire Hogle Zoo SSA Team created sets and design pieces for weeks leading up to the event.

Seth said zoo staff encouraged the team’s creativity.  He added “It wasn’t a partnership; it was one vision to make sure everything was perfect.”  Craig added by saying the combined efforts of SSA was nothing short of monumental, and SSA took this challenge on as they approach everything in our partnership:  by asking “How can we help?” and then exceeding expectations.

To help with the social events, more than 20 employees from different units around the country came to Utah.  Also to promote the expertise of SSA, employees from other units wore their institution’s clothing and nametags.

The SSA staff followed its successful event with a zoo day where the delegates visited the zoo.  Staff used the same creative approach on Zoo Day, pairing themed foods with settings to match the different thematic areas of the zoo.  The zoo provided lunch and snacks and in the evening, a catered dinner again highlighted the talented SSA crew.  Craig said that Corporate Executive Chef Travis Knight, Hogle Zoo Executive Chef Cory Crozier and his culinary team, and a veritable army of SSA chefs and managers who flew in for the conference delivered a delicious variety of unique and special offerings.

As the culinary team planned the social events, the retail staff planned the remodel of the gift shop.

Staff painted walls, stained the floor, installed new fixtures and more.  A highlight of the remodel was the updated conservation corner that featured photos of zoo staff talking about the importance of partnering with local people by buying crafts.  For example, an elephant keeper talked about how purchase of elephant poo paper helps elephants.



To support wildlife conservation, Houston Zoo no longer offers plastic bags at its gift shops.  Customers now have the option to go bag-free, purchase a reusable bag or use a tote brought from home.

Stephanie Gonzales, SSA Retail Manager, said this initiative helps save wildlife.  “It is part of our SSA culture and it’s simply the right thing to do.  It has been an easy transition from plastic to recycled paper to offering no bag at all.”

Houston-Zoo-bags_133328Stephanie added that guests have responded positively in large part due to the awesome staff and how they are conveying the message of how important it is to not have plastic end up in our oceans and landfills.

The transition started as part of a test in July, and when guests supported the initiative, the institution decided to make the switch permanent. Since then, approximately 200 plastic bags have been saved per day or will keep an estimated 80,000 plastic bags from entering landfills and the environment each year.

The zoo also has an expanding collection of canvas bags for sale.  These bags feature images depicting the animals that benefit from a reduction of plastic bags in the ocean. The series includes sea lions and sea turtles and will soon include pelicans, too.

SSA also operates the gift shop for the Hermann Park Conservancy, which is located in the park adjacent to the zoo.  Staff plans to implement a no bag policy at that location.


By Bryce Leo, Conservation and Sales Supervisor, Monterey Bay Aquarium

The SSA Team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium taps into many local and international vendors to offer handmade goods unique to the Aquarium and its animals, such as playful sea otters or majestic jellyfish.  Many of these products are made of glass or fragile china and come from around the world – and usually are packed in popular, but environmentally-unfriendly Styrofoam.    Though SSA and its vendors are trying to find alternatives, such as mushroom and air-bag packaging, they are not as accessible or a viable choice yet.
The light-weight, cost-effective Styrofoam makes it a formidable packing material.   But it doesn’t break-down easily, so it’s hard to recycle. This has been a challenge in the Central Coast of California for some years.    Recently a new trash hauling company, Green Waste, has taken over and completely redefined what materials are deemed “Recyclable” and now includes Styrofoam.

With this new program, Styrofoam can be diverted from the landfill along with a plethora of other materials that once made their way to the landfill.   I was able to coordinate with Green Waste to switch around a few receptacles to maximize our recycling potential for Styrofoam.  Now SSA warehouse staff picks up Styrofoam for both SSA products and MBA husbandry and takes it to our warehouse for disposal. We are now logging how much Styrofoam is being diverted from the landfill and have already exceeded 100 pounds.

This collaboration between SSA and the Husbandry team to reduce and divert Styrofoam speaks to how departments within the Aquarium can work together to achieve a common goal and to solve a challenge that has been difficult to solve.   Our goal is to gradually reduce our use of Styrofoam, but until then these recycling efforts can only help in the conservation of our oceans.



From record setting attendance to green awards to new eateries and exhibits to volunteerism, the Detroit Zoo has become a leader in what zoos should do.  Here’s a quick overview of what’s happening.

The Detroit Zoo opened a grab-and-go eatery called Pure Greens that will serve locally sourced vegetables and meats from Michigan farms.  Guests can choose a main seasonal dish accompanied by a side of twisted root salad, kale tabbouleh or garlic and dill garbanzo beans.  All entrees are also served on a bed of fresh salad blend.  Kid’s meals include a soy nut butter and strawberry sandwich on gluten-free bread and a turkey wrap in a whole-grain tortilla, both served with fresh vegetables.  The menu will change seasonally with local vendor and farmer offerings.

The Detroit Zoo opened its latest animal habitat, the Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness, This two-acre naturalistic habitat features grassy hills and meadows, native Michigan trees, a flowing stream and pond, dens and elevated rock outcroppings from which wolves can survey their surroundings.  Guests are able to see two wolves from any vantage points around the $1.4 million habitat.

For the 10th consecutive year, the Detroit Zoo surpassed one million visitors on August 25. Dinosauria and the new Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness contributed to the strong numbers.

Detroit Zoo staff donated hundreds of plush, including wolves, giraffes, polar bears, penguins and red pandas, to put smiles on pediatric patients.

The plush animals were available for purchase at a discounted price in the  zoo’s gift shop, Zoofari Market, since May 2014, with the intent of being donated to local hospitals. The philanthropic idea was the brainchild of SSA employees. Generous zoo patrons donated more than 700 plush animals in the first four months of the program, which were given to Beaumont Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Michigan DMC in October 2014.

This year, the zoo partnered with the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital will have the opportunity to choose from hundreds of plush playmates as part of a new partnership
The Detroit Zoological Society received the coveted Green Award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). The top honor for best sustainable business practices was at the AZA Annual Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The award recognizes green programs that exist institution-wide in the 229 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to reduce the environmental impact of an organization from a business operations standpoint.

ZACC Conference 2015 – Denver Zoo – Conservation Commerce

By Andrew Fischer, General Manager – Retail – Monterey Bay Aquarium

The 2015 ZACC Conference was held October 12 – 16 in Denver and hosted by the Denver Zoo.   ZACC stands for Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation was attended by 300 field researchers, conservation vendors and zoo colleagues and included a panel discussion by Andrew Fischer, SSA’s Conservation Director and Retail GM of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

ZACC is held every two years and encourages and promotes increased involvement of zoos and aquariums in support of field conservation – locally, nationally and internationally.

I had the opportunity to be on a panel “Communities and Concessionaires: Perspectives on conservation through commerce.”    The focus was to provide insight into sustainable livelihood projects connected with conservation commerce and how the projects are started, cultivated and completed.

I shared the stage with Kemigisa Margaret, Program Manager, New Nature Foundation and Founder/Director, Community Action Program, Marissa Niranjan, Director of Zoo Programs, Snow Leopard Trust, Kuban Zhumabiuulu, Snow Leopard Foundation, Kyrgyzstan, and Cheryl Knott , Associate Professor at Boston University and works with Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program.

I focused my discussion on a few current programs including Tom’s Shoes, Snow Leopard Trust, Ocean Sole and Painted Dog Conservation.    I noted how the merchandise offered in our Conservation Marketplace locations can assist the organizations and communities in telling their stories that help save the species threatened by either depletion of local resources or being hunted for pelts or food.

I also spoke to the challenges and opportunities in connecting the amazing stories that accompany these products and how third party and self-operated companies should strive to partner with their institutions in growing this knowledge.    “We have staff that this is their first job ever, and we want them to provide great service, ring a register, and other key responsibilities.   So to ask them to connect a snare wire sculpture with the plight of wild dogs and to understand the detailed creation process is a lot to ask, but we must work together with education and conservation departments to find a way to help educate them, even if it is just to understand a few key facts as that can make the difference for a guest to learn – and then take action.”

I, along with Denver Zoo Store Operations Manager Marlina Schleuger, also had the opportunity to host the ZACC attendees at a zoo event, and the visitors thoroughly enjoyed shopping in the zoo’s extensive Conservation Marketplace.  Seeing the store after my presentation illustrated full-circle the focus that SSA has on conservation commerce.


It was a significant occasion when the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II was held aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial in September.  SSA staff took the opportunity to add to it.  In 1945, the surrender took place on the wooden decks of the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) also known as the “Mighty Mo”.  Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, General Douglas MacArthur, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and other world leaders signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender marking the end of the war.

USM anniverary celebration

USM store manager Tina Fonceca with US Sailor on Mighty Mo’s 70th anniversary; SSA employees dress in 40’s attire to celebrate the 70th anniversary

usm choco promo

To recognize the efforts of the military, USM offerss a promotional chocolate add on to send overseas to active soldiers as a thank you for their service. The goal is to send 1,000 of the three-packs of chocolate bars.  Guests who donate $10 for the chocolate program get to send an appreciation card, and SSA  staff mails both the chocolates and postcard.

The Dallas Zoo has smashed its all-time attendance record for the sixth consecutive year, with 1,028,516 guests visiting Texas’ largest and oldest zoo in the fiscal year that ended September 30. Exceeding one million visitors is a first in the zoo’s 127-year history.  Visitor totals exceeded last year’s attendance by 85,316, or more than 9%.

The Tulsa Zoo’s attendance topped 637,700 guests during its 2014-15 fiscal year, marking a milestone for the zoo. This attendance total is the second-highest in the zoo’s 87-year history, just shy of the 669,928 guests who attended the zoo in 1997 after the opening of the Tropical American Rainforest.

Its 50th birthday celebration helped the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo set a new attendance record in 2015.  A total of 618,498 people visited the zoo in 2015, exceeding the previous attendance record of 614,666, set in 2009 when the African Journey exhibit first opened.  This figure includes 590,649 guests who visited during the regular zoo season of April 25-October 11, and 27,849 guests who attended the Wild Zoo Halloween in 2015.

Pretend City, an interactive children’s museum that builds better brains through whole body learning experiences, educational programs and creative exhibits, celebrated its 6th birthday the end of August.

steve burns photo

Steve Burns, Director of Zoo Boise, is the new Chair of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Board of Directors.

“Steve’s leadership skills, extensive experience and tremendous passion for wildlife conservation will undoubtedly make him a strong asset to AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos as he leads the AZA Board of Directors and encourages all of us to continue working hard to make a positive impact on the world’s wildlife species,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy.

As Chair of the Board, Burns, along with three other executive officers and nine Board members, will be involved in every aspect of the national organization, including accreditation, ethics, animal welfare, and conservation. Each year, AZA’s 230 accredited facilities collectively contribute $160 million to field conservation projects that help to protect species across the world, serve more than 183 million visitors, welcome more than 12 million students on educational field trips, contribute $17.4 billion to the U.S. economy and support 176,000 jobs.

Steve has been the Executive Director of the Friends of Zoo Boise since 1997 and the Zoo Director since 2001. Before that he worked at The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Virginia.

John Lewis, Director of the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, has been elected to the board of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  Other Board members representing our parnters’ institutions include Bob Chastain, President and CEO, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo; Gregg Hudson, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer; Dallas Zoo Management Inc. and Steve Marshall, Zoo Director, El Paso Zoo.

Ed Nichols, president and CEO of History Colorado, retired this fall after eight years leading the state’s premier historical and preservation organization.  During Nichols’ tenure the organization grew both in size and scope, leaving its long-standing facility on Lincoln Street and opening a new museum with more than 30,000 feet of exhibit space and a new brand as History Colorado at 1200 Broadway. Two other senior leaders also are accepting voluntary retirements as part of the organization’s strategic plan to improve the organization’s financial position following declining gaming revenues from the state. Kathryn Hill, chief operating officer, and Joseph Bell, vice president of finance and facilities.


Zootique, the new gift shop at Zoo Boise, set two records for SSA.  It became the first gift shop to have the exit of the zoo go through the shop.  Also, it is the first one to have an animal exhibit as part of the décor.  The exhibit features two elephant shrews, and two Prevost squirrels.  The store doubled its space and enhanced its display features.

zoo boise gift shop


The largest project ever built at Fresno Chaffee Zoo recently opened.  The 13-acre African Adventure features more than 100 animals, such as lions, African elephants, rhinos, cheetahs and pelicans.   The exhibit features real trees, artificial trees, artificial rocks – some heated. There are close-up animal views through glass partitions and expansive views of acreage offering a grassy African plain scene.  A highlight of the exhibit is the Kopje Lodge, a restaurant offering a grill station, pizzeria, market station and espresso bar and a dining area for guests with a 360-degree view of the savanna. In an additional side room, the lodge also has a classroom for visiting teachers and animal experts.  Construction took 21 months and cost $56 million.

As part of the new African Adventure, SSA Retail Team opened an outdoor gift shop.  The store design used custom fixtures to replicate an African marketplace and merchandise includes African-themed jewelry and accessories as well as a wide variety of fair trade products.


The Barbara Ingalls Shook Black Bear Trail opened at the Birmingham Zoo.  This exhibit spans nearly an acre and is an interactive and educational exhibit that features two distinct habitats for the zoo’s rescued North American black bears, Bety and Sassy. The exhibit transports visitors from Grandma’s backyard in rural Alabama to the wilds of Alabama.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s female mountain tapir, Carlotta, and her mate, Cofan, were put on exhibit in their new space the end of September.   The tapirs have been living in an off-exhibit area since 2012, due to the construction of Encounter Africa. Though they haven’t been visible to the public, important breeding and conservation efforts for the species have continued.  Mountain tapirs are the most critically endangered species of tapir. Experts estimate there are only 2,500 to 3,000 remaining in the wild.  Only two zoos in the United States have mountain tapirs – Los Angeles Zoo and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. There are only seven tapirs between the two zoos, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has the only proven breeding female, which is why breeding efforts at the Zoo are so important.

The Los Angeles Zoo debuted the newly-renovated Red Ape Rain Forest, the first major improvements made since the exhibit opened in July 2000. The renovation created an improved, multi-dimensional environment for the six orangutans who call the habitat home. The makeover included a thicker, stronger stainless steel woven mesh, several two and three-tiered wooden climbing structures, 10 bridges on land and suspended in the air, two swings used for foraging and play, and several hammocks made from donated fire hose. The entire exhibit was also repainted, and the grass was reseeded.
The Living Desert Zoo opened Winged Wonders, a new 2,500 square-foot walk-through butterfly exhibit. Visitors experience close encounters with 300 butterflies from more than 30 species.  The exhibit also features lush gardens, tranquil fountains and beautiful butterfly benches.



The Wildlife Carousel at Reid Park Zoo recently started twirling.  The American-made carousel features representatives from 30 different animal species. Each animal was painstakingly fabricated and hand painted. The carousel is topped by a safari-themed thatched roof, so it blends in nicely with the foliage in the front plaza of the Zoo.

reid park carousel

The Imagination Playground™ Block Party exhibit opened at Discovery Gateway.  Block Party is made from giant lightweight foam blocks in a variety of shapes including cubes, cogs, curves, and cylinders that fit together to allow the continuation of a child’s idea. From crawlers to climbers, kids of all ages will be able to build amazing structures from floor to ceiling, connecting parts into the gallery walls, and transforming the space with the power of their imaginations.  The new Block Party exhibit and gallery update is part of the initial phase in Discovery Gateway’s three-year plan to redesign and upgrade museum exhibits.

platic_bag_polar_bear_buffalo_zooThe Buffalo Zoo has installed a new feature in the Arctic Edge exhibit. A sculpture of a polar bear named Terra was added to the zoo’s new Arctic Edge exhibit. The installation was constructed out of over 1,500 plastic shopping bags, the amount used by the average American family of four in one year. Zoo staff and volunteers spent months collecting the bags and constructing the sculpture.

The Autry National Center of the American West is changing to Autry Museum of the American West. The updated name reflects principal activities as a museum dedicated to exploring and sharing the diverse stories of the American West. This change precedes the unveiling of nearly 20,000 square feet of renovated visitor spaces, scheduled to open to the public in October 2016.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden took adventure to an all-new level with the debut of Moonlight Zip tours in mid-October. Two exhilarating evening journeys send guests gliding through the tree tops and over a rickety bridge before zooming more than 1,000 ft. across the lower Saluda River under the stars. Moonlight Zip tours will take place Thursday through Saturday evenings

A new water clock, which is a replica of the park’s waterclock that graced the entrance to the park for 30 years, before being destroyed during the Royal Gorge Fire, was recently installed in the plaza behind the Royal Gorge Park Visitor Center.  This unique time keeping creation is one of three in the world and the only in the Colorado. Splashing water cascading from bucket to bucket gives the exact date and time.

History Colorado explored Denver’s culinary past as part of the Colorful Colorado lecture series. From mining camp bakeries to continental cuisine, historians Robert and Kristen Autobee discussed Denver’s vanished eateries.  As part of the event, the Rendezvous Cafe at the History Colorado Center featured a special dish, Chicken à la King. Chicken à la King came to Denver in the early 20th century as part of the Denver Dry Goods department store tearoom. This Denver institution, known simply as “The Denver”, served three thousand lunches a day with Chicken à la King as a standard on the menu.

Personnel News 


Dave (Left), Scholarship Recipient (Center), Tim Brantley (Right)

David Goetz, Corporate EVP of Contract Compliance, was recently re-elected to a third term on the Board of Directors of the Mile High Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association, representing our Denver teams at the History Colorado Center, Denver Zoo, National Western Complex, and Denver Mart.  He was also appointed to a second two-year term on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Restaurant Association Education Foundation (CRAEF).  Fellow CRAEF Board Members recently elected him as Vice President of the Education Committee, which overseas the interview and award process for CRAEF scholarships to college students seeking degrees in the hospitality industry.  A supporter of the local arts community in Denver, David also recently accepted an Advisory Board position with the Larimer Arts Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting arts awareness and education in Denver.

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