As a result, officials were forced to “re-evaluate” the special visiting privileges reserved for major donors — and without question, feeding yourself to a seven-foot lizard definitely falls into the “major donor” category.
More than a decade later, zoos are still struggling to find ways of rewarding major donors with experiences that, as one zoo official put it, “Offers a unique and exciting interaction with animals that doesn’t include offering our donors as dinner.”
The problem is, while there are certainly lots of other, safer animal exhibits that could be toured by big spenders, the danger factor — and storytelling value — drops off considerably once you leave man-eater realm. Being at a dinner party and telling how you stared down a Siberian tiger, then narrowly escaped its claws, is definitely more impressive than recalling the time you held off a hungry Toucan with nothing but a tranquilizer gun and a box of Fruit Loops.
The same goes for tales of survival that have anything to do with ovulating ostriches or outrunning giant, spitting tortoises (even if what you were wearing was labeled “Dry Clean Only.”)
The fact is, these stories are a lot like microwavable pork rinds; lots of sizzle, very little pop.
As you can imagine, brainstorming sessions have produced a number of ideas, all of which are top secret. However, through an inside source I was able to obtain a list of titles for some possible “special visit” activities.
One potato, two potato, three potato, ROAR!
Share your Big Mac with a Razorback
Can You Find the Piranha in the Sauna?
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Exit
Jack is nimble, Jack is quick — but Jack is still asking for a bigger stick
What zoos don’t seem to understand is that there’s no need to waste time coming up with new ways to thrill big contributors. After a recent trip to the Portland Zoo, I can tell you officials just need to look at the dangers an average attendee faces during a routine excursion to their park. For example, walking past the guy who bends and contorts balloons into animal shapes is absolutely terrifying. It’s like maneuvering past someone twisting multi-colored explosives together; one false move, and the chain reaction could blow the fur off a mountain yak.
Ever run out of food pellets while you’re in the middle of the petting zoo? The only way out is to be air lifted — and that’s only after your hair and shoes have been eaten by goats.
Then there’s the monkey house. I’d just as soon skip the details, but let me just say to any honeymooners out there: if you walk by at the wrong time, the monkeys won’t be throwing rice.
In the end, it really comes down to the question of whether a big donor:
a) Gives with the expectation of receiving special privileges and recognition,
b) Wants to help sustain a quality of life for animals kept in captivity — some of which may not be alive otherwise
If, as a major donor, the answer is “B,” then zoos can skip all the monkey business and stop wasting time and money providing special experiences and privileges; for those donors, the satisfaction of contributing to the welfare of animals is its own privilege.
For donors who answered “A,” I personally volunteer to take them on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the petting zoo. Getting in will be compliments of yours truly! Getting out, however, is going to cost you…