"New spoiler for Avengers: Infinity War. Hulk vs Sea Lions confirmed. You saw it here first folks!"
- Comment from Georgia Aquarium's Facebook page
On a recent trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, I was strolling around behind-the-scenes with a keeper friend of mine. We rounded a corner and unexpectedly came across country star Brad Paisley and his family, lolling about in the grass with... a cheetah. "Crap, I forgot they were back here," my friend whispered, "Just act casual and walk on by..."
Those thirty seconds impressed me with yet another huge divide between her big zoo life and my small zoo one. For me, a major celebrity visit was an unheard of event. For her, it was a typical weekend, and they had the drill down flat. The higher ups would take the star for a special tour with lots of animal meet-and-greets. Everyone not involved tried not to get too much in the way. Not that Mr. Paisley isn't a nice guy - I'm sure he is. It's just that no one wants their quiet family outing spoiled by autograph and selfie seekers. That's what the concert that night is for.
As long as there have been zoos and aquariums, there have been celebrity tours (or how else would you characterize Montezuma II's behind-the-scene tour of his royal menagerie for Cortes and his men? It's a great opportunity to build support for the facility, get some exposure, and who knows, maybe a donation or a spokesperson? Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson recently spent a day at Zoo Atlanta. Chris Pratt and his wife Anna Ferris are supporters of the Woodland Park Zoo. Betty White and Guns n Roses' Slash are spokespeople for Los Angeles Zoo. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a huge zoo buff and always makes a point of visiting zoos on his travels.
Sometimes work and pleasure overlap. Staff at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo got some great exposure to Kevin James as they collaborated on his movie, The Zookeeper.
Of course, sometimes, this special tours can get a bit... awkward. Sharon Stone's husband, Phil Bronstein, got his foot chomped on by a Komodo dragon during a tour of the LA Zoo. And an aquarist acquaintance of mine has a pretty embarrassing story about her, Mark Wahlberg, and a giant Pacific octopus.
Mark Ruffalo and Chris Pratt aren't the only Marvel stars to be a zoo fans. Chris Hemsworth has said that if he wasn't an actor, he'd love to be, you guessed it, a zookeeper.
We'd love to have you Chris. Feel free to bring the hammer.