There’s something about briskly walking along several winding, darkened pathways in one of the world’s most prestigious zoos after-hours that just brings out the adventure in you.
You imagine yourself as a late night Indiana Jones or better yet – a newly minted zoological “James Bond” super hero. Your creative juices really get going. Then, as if someone invisibly issues a silent cue, a symphony of sounds gets louder. You hear mysterious bird calls, animals grunting in their sleep and a few rustling palm leaves. The excitement builds.
If it wasn’t for your zoo host graciously leading the way, you easily could wander the 100-acre grounds. Your thoughts continue racing…the giraffes need me! Let’s forget about securing stories in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.
What’s that…some executives want media training or strategic plans on H1N1 readiness… don’t they realize the African elephants are demanding my time too? How easy it could be to slip away into this urban wilderness.
Luckily, a fortunate group of PRSA conference attendees had the opportunity to do just that for a few hours. We were the recipients of a truly incredible San Diego Zoo experience fashioned just for the Public Relations Society of America!
One Baby Cheetah + One Anatoly Shepherd Puppy = True Love
Once we arrived at our destination, a major surprise awaited our group. A baby South African cheetah was making her debut as an animal ambassador. In addition, her canine buddy “Duke” was on hand. We quickly learned that the San Diego Zoo pairs their baby ambassador cheetahs with dogs. Cheetahs are shy and wary cats. So, their dog buddies act as a “security blanket.” They live and play together for many years. According to our zoo hosts, the ambassador cheetahs feel comfortable following their dog buddies into any new situations.
We also met a colorful Scarlet Macaw bird and special ambassador “Mickey”, a white cockatiel. While the white cockatiel fanned his beautiful feathers and mimicked his handler, it was the Scarlet Macaw that easily kept our attention. The bird handler discussed the macaw’s role in the rain forest. She also told us how approximately 1 million parrots are smuggled into the United States every year – sometimes hidden in car doors. It was horrible to learn most smuggled macaws die from stress, suffocation, starvation, or dehydration.
Before our event concluded, we heard from Rick Schwartz. He is the Zoo’s spokesperson. Rick shared with us that the San Diego Zoo has teamed with “Elephants Without Borders” (EWB) to study and save 220,000 elephants that live southern Africa. Leading the effort is Dr. Mike Chase, one of the world’s top elephant ecologists and the founder of EWB. The “Project Elephant Footprint” is an incredible opportunity to make a difference. For as little as $12.50 a month, you can help. Visit www.sandiegozoo.org/botswana for more information. With the holidays quickly approaching, this is one gift idea that is much needed.
At the end of our magical evening, we walked those same darkened pathways back to the waiting vans. Vans which shuttled us back to our PR realities. We entered the San Diego Zoo with visions of adventure and left enlightened adventurers with a vision of a better tomorrow…due to our Zoo hosts and their animal ambassadors. Thank you for this unusual and lifelong experience!
By Catherine A. Huggins, M.B.A., APR, director, external communications, Aviva USA, serves on the national Board of Directors for the Public Relations Society of America. A 25-year veteran of strategic marketing communications, she is an emerging blogger and passionate about the role communications can play in making a positive difference in the lives of others. Connect with Catherine on LinkedIn.
For coverage of the PRSA 2009 International Conference: Delivering Value, visit our Conference blog or follow the conversation on Twitter at hashtag #prsa09.