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Thursday, December 1, 2016

'Tis the Season of Gimme! GImme! Gimme!

The day after Thanksgiving is generally known as Black Friday, and it hallmarks the start of the Christmas shopping season (officially, anyway - it seems to be creeping up earlier every year).  To counter the big-chain superstores, the day after has become known as "Small Business Saturday", and - Sunday being for rest, of course - the next week kicks off with "Cyber Monday."

In the remote chance that you have any money left in your bank account after that, you are then urged to take a more charitable turn of mind and celebrate "Giving Tuesday."

It's no surprise that zoos and aquariums are all over Giving Tuesday.  Money is needed for renovations, for capital improvements, for new exhibits and the staff support them, and, oh yeah, just to keep open.  Even the smallest of facilities generally has at least one staff member who has the full time job of making the rounds with an empty sack and a meaningful look in their eye, trying to scare up some donations.  The bigger facilities may have an entire department.

It's not so stressful if you're one of the free zoos (few as they are) - it can be a little frustrating if you charge admission, as people feel like they've already given enough... though there was one free zoo where I worked where I was confronted by an angry guest who said that he felt uncomfortable having to walk by the donation box at the entrance.  Could we please put it someplace more discreet so he didn't feel guilted whenever he brought his kids?

I myself, being a zookeeper, am perpetually short of funds, which makes the holiday season one of stress as well as festivity, though I'm sure many people feel the same way, no matter how much they make.  Still, I'm a sucker for a zoo, and have been known to ruefully bid a few dollars goodbye at this time of year (or when the AZA's Conservation Endowment Fund comes knocking each year).  Fortunately, there is a very meaningful way that you can support your local zoo or aquarium without spending much in the way of money or time. 

Not all donations have to be money.

When money goes to a zoo or aquarium, it may get channeled into several funds.  It may go into the operating budget, which keeps the zoo going.  It may go to a specific animal, or a conservation program, or towards the endowment of a specific position.  The easiest way to raise funds is to do so in the name of a new exhibit, especially for a high profile animal - everyone loves to put up money for physical improvements to the zoo that they will enjoy for years to come.  Where money often has a hard time making its way?  To the very necessary, not-very-sexy expenses that make the zoo run on the keeper level. 

Many of these items are relatively cheap (compared to, say, a new polar bear exhibit) but are super essential to the staff.   You know what I want for Christmas, for the zoo?  A microwave that I can use without fear of it exploding.  Some kid-safe paint to make animal artwork with.  Some non-holey pillow cases for snakes.  Towels!  Garden clippers - my current pair is too dull to cut butter, let along a particularly obnoxious vine.  Last year, I was the rock star of the zoo when I brought in a dog kennel that I found in my parent's basement on a visit home, one that their dog had outgrown years ago.  That kennel has since crossed the country back and forth several times on animal shipments.

So as you are cleaning out your garage or closet this year, making room for the new stuff you plan to acquire for the holiday season, consider regifting some things to your local zoo or aquarium.  It's not going to earn you a giant tax write-off, but we'll really appreciate it.  I promise.

Of course, you can still us money if you want to.  I promise we won't so no to that, either.

Or baked goods.

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