museums&MORE Fall 2019
Cultivating Curiosity By Sam Ujvary

How the distinguished zoological organization is diligent in its attempts to save all the animals

The San Diego Zoo is famous — like, world famous. It’s on so many top-ten lists as the best zoo destination, and at 100 acres with about 800 species and more than 3,000 animals, it is one of the largest zoos in the world.The prestigious establishment opened in 1916, the same year its parent nonprofit, The San Diego Zoo Global, was established. Between the Zoo, the Safari Park — which opened in 1972 — and Global, there are some major accomplishments under its collective belt. The zoo has successfully bred the once-endangered giant panda (it has since moved from endangered to vulnerable), has released 44 species back into the wild, and has had 180 rhinos born within its organization.

The San Diego Zoo Global is a nonprofit conservation organization that is leading the fight against extinction. It operates the Zoo, Safari Park and Institute for Conservation Research. It has unique animals, including critically endangered species and other animals rarely seen in zoos. San Diego Zoo Global conservationists are in the field in 52 countries on six continents, working to save endangered species in their native habitats. Its word is spreading; the organization has the largest membership of any zoological society in the world.

Exterior of San Diego Zoo's Bazaar Gift Shop.

Yvonne Miles feels the energy exuded by the success of this organization, and she has for the 44 years that she’s been there. She acts as corporate director retail/publishing for the 17 shops located within the zoo and Safari Park — not to mention the popup locations during the peak season. The sizes range from 300 to more than 7,000 square feet, so retail has a healthy presence for its 4 million annual visitors. “We have the most unusual products from around the world, custom apparel and accessories, which are popular with our visitors,” said Miles. “Our book publishing division has created a collection of award-winning children’s books that complement our San Diego Zoo Kids program series, now featured in over 250 children hospitals and Ronald McDonald houses across the country.”

What else is unique to the Zoo and Safari Park, is that they sell products serving the Global’s mission. Since the conservation team is involved in fieldwork all over the world, the zoo makes every attempt to offer unique gifts from those specific areas. It’s a bonus that these gifts in turn provide much-needed revenue for the areas from where they come. “Beadworks is a company in Northern Kenya which provides revenue for locals,” said Miles.

San Diego Zoo Panda Gift Shop

Similar to other institutions, the exhibits — both temporary and permanent — affect which items sell in each gift shop. The Zoo and Safari Park constantly have new features, from animal experiences and entertainment to special event days like World Giraffe Day.

The Zoo has the world’s largest colony of koalas outside of Australia, and uncommon animals like Greater One-Horned and Southern White rhinoceroses, okapis, bonobos, Sichuan takins, African penguins and Amur leopards. Think of how these beautiful, rare animals would sell as plush keepsakes in the zoo’s shops. “Recently, our main attraction was two giant pandas, but they returned to China at the end of May. Their presence ignited a love of giant panda products, which led our overall best-sellers list,” said Miles.

San Diego Zoo Plant Trader

Africa Rocks, which is the newest exhibit at the Zoo, has been very successful in selling African-related animal plush, toys, apparel and accessories, according to Miles. And at the Safari Park, Walk About Australia is a 3.6-acre habitat featuring four biomes that recently opened. Kangaroos, wallabies, cassowaries, wombats and other animals live in this Aussie habitat. “These animals have become quite popular in apparel, hats, toys and plush,” she said.

San Diego Zoo Zootique Store

In addition to these fun animals who have inspired a plethora of product sales, Miles said the newest line, Save the Chubby Unicorn — the chubby unicorn being a rhino — has swept through the stores like lightning.

The San Diego Zoo, Safari Park and Global are on a handful of missions: to entertain, to educate and — perhaps above all else — to help save the world. Between acreage, species and curriculum that garners more than 250,000 students annually, the organization has set the zoological bar rather high.


Sam Ujvary

Sam is the managing editor of Gift Shop Pets, Museums & More and Party & Halloween Retailer, and is a contributing editor for Gift Shop Magazine. She has a copywriting background and has been in publishing for six years.

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