I meant to have more of a profound, interesting, and, ultimately, labor-intensive post tonight... and then I realized that Christmas is two weeks from today... and 95% of those days, I work. So I had to get shopping done... first online... then at actual stores because I feel back about shopping online and thereby contributing to the decline of actual stores... than back online about an hour later, after I remembered why those stores were in decline in the first place.
One place I have not gone shopping yet is the zoo... emphasis on the "yet."
A zoo or aquarium can be a fantastic resource for holiday shopping for an animal lover, and I don't just mean red panda plushes. There are several unique, exciting, animal-themed gifts that are available. Many zoos sell paintings produced by zoo animals, often accompanied by a photo or fun facts about the artist. Others may sell bookmarks of laminated feathers or snake shed, or perhaps Christmas ornaments that contain feathers or fur. For the gardener in your family or circle of friends, you may even be able to acquire a bag of zoo-produced compost.
If it's not an animal-item per se that you are interested it, there are other options, as well. Many zoos and aquariums sell free-trade items produced in communities around the world. Among the most popular is snare-ware, jewelry or artwork made from actual wire snares pulled from the African bush. These snares are a major cause of mortality for many African species, as they indiscriminately kill or maim a wide range of animals for the bushmeat trade. The snares are collected, removed from the bush so they can do no harm to wildlife, then turned over to African villages, who fashion items for sale abroad. By purchasing them, you are providing funds to impoverished rural villages, while at the same time supporting the removal of deadly snares. That wire probably looks better on your best friend's wrist as a bracelet than it would around a cheetahs leg.
And lastly, if you are looking to cut down on consumerism, you could always opt out of possessions and into... experiences. Go diving with whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium. Meet a rhinoceros at the Lowry Park Zoo. Paint with African penguins at the Newport Aquarium. Be a zookeeper for a day with a guided tour behind-the-scenes. Heck, just buy a friend a membership and give their family something to do year-round.
Purchasing some of your Christmas gifts at your local zoo and aquarium is a great way to support a local conservation organization. And, because many items are specially sold or priced to benefit conservation programs, domestically or internationally, you can be sure that your gift isn't just a gift to the recipient, but to wildlife in need, as well.