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Ropes What!? Jungle Ropes Safari Opens 7-20 at Safari Park

Matt rides the Jungle Ropes Safari zip line.

It wasn’t until I completed the first few challenges that a huge grin appeared on my face. I was getting the hang of the clicking and unclicking of the “smart belay” system. The ducking and dodging and balancing and climbing became more comfortable and familiar. I was learning to exist in another world–an arboreal world high above the ground full of pulleys and wires and intricately designed floating obstacles. The rush from accomplishing previous challenges drove me forward, and the anticipation of the challenges ahead manifested in a big, defiant smile that said “bring it on.” I was hooked.

When I first heard a “ropes course” was being installed at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, my first reaction was “ropes what!?” I had never heard of a ropes course. I had an idea that it might be some kind of obstacle course, but I never envisioned the otherworldly treetop labyrinth that is Jungle Ropes Safari. When you head to the Safari Park and see it for yourself, you’ll know what I mean. It’s pretty impressive. I was lucky enough to be offered a sneak peek at Jungle Ropes Safari, and I can safely say it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done.

After suiting up in a super-stylish harness and watching a quick safety briefing, I was let loose on the course. It took me a few minutes to get in the groove, but soon I was brachiating with the best of them. I could say I felt like a monkey or an orangutan, but I’d be lying. I was way too clumsy with my awkward, bipedal human body that was clearly adapted for ground dwelling. It didn’t make me feel like an arboreal ape, but it gave me A TON of respect for them. Honestly, an orangutan wouldn’t bat an eye at Jungle Ropes Safari. Child’s play.

When I was about halfway through the course, I noticed a peaceful feeling falling over me. Sure I was breaking a sweat and trying not to fall, but after a while I forgot about all that. I was focused on nothing but finding my next footing. It was just me and the trees and the course as I conquered challenge after challenge. It was an unexpected kind of meditation, but very welcome.

Think you have what it takes to make it across?

I finally arrived at the zip line portion of the course. It’s nothing compared to our Flightline Safari zip line, which is 2/3 of a mile long, but it’s a nice breather from the rest of the course. You get to sit back and enjoy the ride to the next platform without expending much energy. I clicked my smart belays onto the line and attached my trolley. I knew where to put my hands, almost like second nature at this point–one on the trolley and the other on the straps. I leaned back and pushed off the platform. Gliding through the lush canopy with dappled sunlight lighting my way, I found myself thinking, “I could do this all day.”

Jungle Ropes Safari opens to the public on July 20, 2012.

*Due to the strenuous nature of this aerial adventure, children must be at least 7 years old to participate. Safety restrictions require that only guests who are between 50 and 275 pounds and have a reach (measured from the sole of the foot to the up-stretched tips of the fingers) of 55 inches can take the Safari. We don’t have a price solidified yet, but we’ll keep you in the loop.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Garden Fest Insect House Tweet-up.

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Garden Fest Insect House Tweet-up

The crew from last year's Festival of Flight tweet-up

UPDATE: The tweet-up is now full. Stay tuned for the next one!

Sure, we’re known for our animal collection, but did you know we’re also a world renowned botanical garden with over 700,000 rare and exotic plants? That’s why our next tweet-up (if you don’t know what a tweet-up is, educate yourself) at the Zoo will be on May 12 at 9:30 a.m. to celebrate our annual Garden Festival. However, unlike last year’s Garden Festival tweet-up, which was all about the plants, this year’s tweet-up is focusing on those cute little critters you might find in your garden at home: bugs!

Our very passionate insect keepers, Paige Howorth and Kelli Walker, will lead guests on a VIP tour of the Insect House in the Children’s Zoo, and they’ll bring out a few crazy bugs for guests to see up close. Unfortunately, our Insect House has a limited capacity, so we can only allow 30 tweeps to join us. If you want in (Zoo admission required), tweet these exact words:

I want to make friends w/bugs @ the #GardenFest tweet-up at the @sandiegozoo on May 12

The first 30 people who tweet the above will get a direct message from us with an invite to the tweet-up. If you’re not one of the first 30, you’ll be put on the waiting list. Please note, Zoo admission is required. If you want to bring guests, let us know and we’ll try to make accommodations depending on space available, but no promises. Our apologies for the limitations, but we’re excited to introduce 30 lucky tweeps to our creepy crawly friends. Now hurry and get tweeting!

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, A Story of Love at the Zoo.

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A Story of Love at the Zoo

We came across this touching story on Twitter and wanted to share it with you. Thanks to Mike Markulis for reaching out to us. If you have any cute stories like this, tweet them to us. We hope you enjoy Mike’s story as much as we did:

“My name is Mike Markulis. This is my girlfriend Leah Venegas, and this is our story of our trip to the San Diego Zoo. In 2011 Leah and I were proud annual pass members of both the Zoo and the Safari Park, after many memories and experiences we decided to upgrade to Diamond members! Nearly 3 whole months have passed and we hadn’t gone to either park! We had to visit!!! Leah’s birthday was April 1, and she wanted to share OUR Zoo with our friends. I had plans of my own……

I met Leah 5 years ago at Disneyland where we both worked. We were fast friends, and did not start dating until a year after we met. We have been together ever since, and I have found the woman that I want to spend the rest of my life with. We have had many memories at the Zoo and Safari Park, but no trip would compare to our March 31st visit. I made a video for Leah, and it was filled with pictures and music, most pictures from our many zoo visits! I wanted to show the video at the end of the day in front of her favorite, The Polar Bears! The day was coming to an end, and the big moment was coming. Nearly emptied, Leah and I sat on a bench in front of the above water habitat of the Polars, and I gave her my birthday present, the video. As it ended I reached into my bag and grabbed a “Tangled” jewelry box (her favorite Disney princess) and I asked her to share the rest of her life with me. She said YES! I could not be happier that that special moment took place at the Zoo, and with our good friends in tow. They made it more magical and provided Mickey groom ears and an engaged Minnie head band. They brought Disney to us! We are both avid followers on Twitter, but this story could not fit in 140 characters!! We are excited and happy and the San Diego Zoo is forever intertwined with our love story and we will forever remember that special trip to the San Diego Zoo!

All our thanks and admiration for what you do,
Mike Markulis and Leah Venegas
@mikemarkulis and @xxoLeahxx

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Condor Chick Receives Name.

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Albert’s Winter Brewmaster Dinner w/Sierra Nevada

Smoked pork loin on a spiced cactus masa cake with tomatillo chilies, citrus sauce, and petite ice plant

The latest brewmaster dinner at Albert’s Restaurant featured one of the largest craft breweries in the country, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Based in Chico, California, Sierra Nevada has been rocking the beer industry since 1980, making a name for itself with its aggressively hopped pale ale. Thirty-two years later, it’s still pumping out delicious brews from a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly brewery, impressing beer geeks and casual drinkers alike. The brewing genius of Sierra Nevada mixed with the expertise of the Albert’s kitchen crew resulted in pure awesome.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis and Torpedo Extra IPA were served during the reception along with carne and pollo street tacos with all the fixings. Guests also got to make friends with Victor the echidna (the oldest mammal in the Zoo’s collection), Shaman the great-horned owl, Baba the pangolin, and Phu Ket the binturong before heading downstairs for the main event. Brewery Ambassador Steve Grossman and Assistant Brewmaster and Field Educator Terence Sullivan took the floor as soon as we got down to Albert’s, giving us lessons in beer and talking us through the pairings.

First up was spiced shrimp and avocado salad paired with Orvila Abbey Saison. In case you’re not a beer aficionado (nobody’s perfect), a “saison” is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale, and Orvila Abbey Saison is the result of a collaboration with the monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, California. You wouldn’t think a Belgian-style ale would go well with spiced shrimp and avocado, but you’d be wrong. The beer completely transformed the dish, turning it all to butter with its biscuity notes and creamy mouth feel. The dinner was off to a good start.

The next course was smoked pork loin on a spiced cactus masa cake with tomatillo chilies, citrus sauce, and petite ice plant served alongside 30th Anniversary Brewer’s Reserve Grand Cru. This course was perhaps the best I’ve ever had at Albert’s. No joke. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth, the spice was subtle but still very present, and the sweet masa provided the soft, crumbly base, creating the best of both worlds: sweet and savory done right. The slightly tart, smoky grand cru rounded out the experience, harmonizing wonderfully with the complex dish.

Then came another heavy-hitting meat course: braised-beef short ribs with enchilada mole sauce, yellow tomato salsa, caramelized onions, and molasses pinto beans topped with micro cilantro. This bad boy was paired with Life and Limb, a bold, dark ale brewed collaboratively with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware. The short ribs were appropriately tender, but more subtle than the pork. They were slightly overshadowed by the sweet, vinegary beer. The mango salsa was a nice touch, adding a floral, citrusy layer to balance out the smoky aspects of the ribs and mole. While not trumping the previous, this was a solid course.

With barely any room left in our satisfied bellies, dessert came out in the form of a butterscotch white chocolate mousse with vanilla caramel sauce and cream, paired with 30th Anniversary “Jack and Ken’s Ale” Barleywine Ale. The big, malty punch of the barleywine and the fluffy, creamy goodness of the mousse were the perfect finale.

Thanks to Sierra Nevada for proving why they’re so revered, and thanks to Executive Chef Chris Mirguet, Sous Chef Charles Boukas, and the rest of the Albert’s crew for pulling out all the stops yet again. If you have a foodie side, do yourself a favor and check out one of these dinners. You won’t be disappointed. Have a look at what’s next at Albert’s.

Have you been to a delicious pairing event recently? Do you have a suggestion for future dinners? Let us know in the comments.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Rhino Poaching Increases at Alarming Rate.

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Rhinos: Never Give Up, Never Surrender

The Safari Park's most recent eastern black rhino calf, Eric. There are only about 700 eastern black rhinos left in the wild.

In response to a recent article published by msnbc.com declaring the extinction of the western black rhino, Safari Park Curator of Mammals Randy Rieches had this to say:

“This is such incredibly horrible news. Within the last couple months we have seen the last Javan rhino in Vietnam poached, the western black rhino declared extinct, and numerous rhinos of all taxa in Africa and Asia poached for their horns, which are now being sold on the black market for up to $100,000 a kilo.

We thought that last year was such a horrendous year for rhinos being poached in Africa and Asia that it couldn’t get any worse. Unfortunately, we now see that the numbers continue to escalate higher in 2011.

There is no end in site to the carnage wreaked upon this magnificent family. As a conservationist, the term ‘never give up, never surrender’ has never carried more meaning.”

I second Randy’s sentiments, and if you’re reading this blog post you probably do, too. We can’t let human greed win this time. Help us spread the word about the dire plight of rhinos. Like, tweet, share, and re-share this blog post with your friends. Only through increased awareness can we inspire compassion and drive action to save rhinos. Unless we want to lose this incredible animal forever, we have to follow Randy’s advice: “never give up, never surrender.”

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Get Invited to Festival of Flight Tweet-up.

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Get Invited to Festival of Flight Tweet-up

Guests of our Reptilemania tweet-up got up close with our Galápagos tortoises and took home a free snake plush!

UPDATE: All spots for our Festival of Flight tweet-up have been filled! Follow us on twitter to be part of the next tweet-up.

If you follow us on Twitter, you know we like to hook up our followers with free stuff, but by far the best perk is our tweet-ups. Tweet-ups are special on-grounds meet-ups just for our social media followers, and they usually involve up-close animal interactions and presentations not available to other guests. For our Reptilemania tweet-up, guests got to touch one of our slithery animal ambassadors, feed our Galápagos tortoises, and take home a free snake plush. For our Koalapalooza tweet-up we tracked “koalas” (the plush kind) using the same equipment that our researchers use in the field, and got up close with a kookaburra and, of course, a koala.

We’ve also had tweet-ups at the Safari Park. During Butterfly Jungle, our tweet-up guests were granted access to the event through a closed-off side entrance, avoiding the line and enjoying a private presentation of a few creepy crawlies by the Park’s insect keeper. The Park’s Cheetah Run tweet-up was even sweeter. It offered guests the full VIP treatment, allowing them to watch the run from our special VIP viewing zone and meet a cheetah up close, which is something we normally charge $40 extra for!

Guests of our Cheetah Run tweet-up got the full VIP treatment

We also hold raffles and give away free stuff at most of our tweet-ups, with prizes ranging from animal plushes to tickets for super-awesome behind-the-scenes experiences. For example, at our most recent #AnimalStars tweet-up, we raffled off five panda adoption packages and one grand prize of four Backstage Pass tickets. Check out this stellar blog and video for more on our last tweet-up.

The best part about our tweet-ups is that they’re FREE with admission. If you’re a member, consider them a perk of your membership. As you may know, Festival of Flight is coming November 10 through 13, 2011. We had a tweet-up for last year’s event involving a guided tour of the Scripps’ and Owens’ aviaries by one of our bird keepers and up-close bird viewing, but we wanted to offer something even better this year. That’s why on Saturday, November 12, at 10 a.m., we’re letting you loose (with supervision of course) in our Backstage Pass flamingo zone for some up-close flamingo fun! You’ll also enjoy presentations of a few other feathered friends by our expert Backstage Pass trainers…but there’s a catch. Because of the limited space in our flamingo zone, we can only invite 23 guests to join us for this tweet-up. So how do you get an invite? Listen close. Make sure you’re able and willing to attend on Saturday, November 12, at 10 a.m. (Zoo admission required). Then follow us on twitter and tweet these exact words:

I want to go to the @sandiegozoo #FestOfFlight tweet-up for some #FlamingoFun!

The first 23 people who tweet the above will get a direct message from us with an invite to the tweet-up. If you want to bring a guest or your kids, let us know and we’ll try to make accommodations depending on space available, but no promises. We apologize for the limited space, but we’re super excited to introduce you to our beautiful winged friends. Now hurry and get tweeting!

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Facebook Winner joins us in the Field.

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Facebook Winner Joins Us in the Field

From left to right: Facebook winner Jeff Williams, research technician Frank Santana, UC James Reserve Director Rebecca Fenwick

When we got to the gorgeous University of California James Reserve in the San Jacinto Mountains, the sun was high and the sky was a clear, deep blue. We lucked out. It was the perfect day to take our Facebook winner, Jeff Williams, with us into the field to take part in our mountain yellow-legged frog project. It was also apparent by the conversation we had in the two-hour car ride up to the mountains that Jeff was the perfect candidate to take with us.

An avid outdoorsman, Jeff’s passion for nature and the wildlife therein was palpable. It turned out that Jeff used to breed blue dart frogs, a hobby catalyzed by an encounter he had with wild frogs in Costa Rica. “I thought it was amazing to come across these fluorescent spots of light in the forest all around you,” he said. A love of wildlife also runs in Jeff’s family. After learning that meat came from animals at the age of four, his daughter chose to be vegetarian. “It’s kind of a good thing because it forces us to eat healthier,” Jeff said.

Jeff was also very interested in the project, and asked Frank Santana, our lead field technician, a million questions about mountain yellow-legged frogs (MYLF) and their plight. We learned that the chytrid fungus is the main reason for the frog’s alarmingly rapid decline. The fungus affects the keratin layer of skin and impairs the frogs’ ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide through their skin, resulting in a slow suffocation. The species also faces threats from pollution and introduced predators like brown and rainbow trout. I also learned that historically there were 160 populations of MYLF in the region, now there are just 9. In fact, 33% of all amphibian species worldwide are threatened by extinction, with threats from habitat loss, pollution, introduced species, and chytrid. This knowledge gave our work renewed gravity and purpose in my mind.

When we broke off the beaten path toward the wild stream where we had released about 500 critically endangered mountain yellow-legged frog tadpoles earlier this year, it was clear that we were in for an adventure. Soon we were climbing over fallen logs, thrashing through dense foliage, and wading in knee-deep water. Our goal was to hike upstream in search of tadpoles that may have dispersed from their original release pools. Jeff didn’t get off easy. We put him to work searching for tadpoles and measuring the length, width, and depth of certain pools, and he gladly indulged us. He was an important part of the team for a day. He even brought some useful equipment with him, like a super-small, super-bright LED flashlight that really came in handy for searching dark pockets of water. In fact, many of the pictures we captured of tadpoles wouldn’t have come out without Jeff shining his flashlight in the water.

After a few hours of searching the stream we had yet to find tadpoles, even with the help of UC James Reserve Director Rebecca Fenwick. It wasn’t until we got to the most upstream release pool that we saw about five tadpoles, which believe it or not is a good sign, since tadpoles face threats from many predators in the wild. It was an incredible feeling to finally spot the little guys. “After all that work it’s good to see that they’re still there and hopefully they’ll start to see some success,” Jeff said. I think we can all agree.

It was an absolute pleasure having Jeff along with us. We appreciated his help and had an awesome time “doing science” with him. Like our facebook page for a chance to fill Jeff’s shoes and ride along with us into the field for our cactus wren project.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Summer SCVNGR Safari.

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Summer SCVNGR Safari

There will be no shortage of things to see and do during Summer Safari African Extravaganza, July 2 to August 21 at the Safari Park. From high-flying African acrobats to ridiculously fast cheetahs, there will be plenty of ways to experience the wonders of Africa’s rich culture and animals. But for those of you who want a more in-depth, interactive, and FUN way to experience the sights and sounds of Summer Safari, there’s no better way than with our Summer SCVNGR Safari.

Summer SCVNGR Safari is a game you can play on your mobile phone that leads you through some of the more notable Summer Safari festivities to complete challenges and become a certified “Safari Master.” Players will compete against each other for the grand prize of a Flightline Safari for four, and the best part is that you don’t even need a fancy smart phone to play. You can text the word “summersafari” to 728647 to join in the fun. For those of you who DO have fancy smart phones, all you have to do is download the SCVNGR app, search for the Summer Safari trek, and off you go!

We’d love to hear your feedback about the trek, so feel free to chat with us on facebook or twitter and share your experience with us. Good luck, and game on!

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Albert’s First Tequila Dinner Featuring Casa Noble.

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Albert’s First Tequila Dinner Featuring Casa Noble

Casa Noble Single Barrel Anejo sifter

I’ve been a craft beer geek for a long time, but like most people, I started out drinking cheap, macro-brewed nonsense because I didn’t know any better. I never thought beer could be delicious until someone sat me down and said, “beer can be good, and here’s why.” That’s exactly what happened at the most recent dinner at the San Diego Zoo’s Albert’s Restaurant, except the beverage in question wasn’t beer but that often vilified agave-based drink—tequila. Thanks to the skilled craftsmen at Casa Noble and the talented kitchen staff at Albert’s, I’ll never see tequila the same again.

Like most of the special dinners at Albert’s, the night began with an intimate reception in the Treetops Banquet Room above the restaurant, complete with all-you-can-eat hors d’oeuvres and all-you-can-drink libations. A tree pangolin (which one guest likened to an “armadillo monkey bird”), tamandua or lesser anteater, and a South African hedgehog dropped by to entertain us while we enjoyed delicious street tacos, nachos with all the fixings, and “Albert’s Organic Margatinis” with Casa Noble Crystal tequila. After the reception, we were led downstairs to kick off the dinner.

The first step toward changing peoples’ perception is education, and that’s how the dinner began. Before the first course came out, the presiding tequila connoisseur, Enrico Caruso, took the floor and gave us a brief history lesson on the drink, how it’s made, and the complexity inherent in a well-crafted tequila. Heads exploded left and right as pre-conceived notions of tequila were shattered. We now had the knowledge to combat our ignorance, but we had yet to apply it. Then came the first tequila.

Before each course we were served our tequila in a shot glass accompanied by a virgin cocktail. We were encouraged to taste the tequila straight up before diluting our taste buds with the rich food, then dump the rest in the cocktail and enjoy it that way if we preferred. Our first taste was of Casa Noble’s Reposado, and with Enrico’s help we began discovering its nuances. The first sip was very sweet and peppery, with larger sips revealing creamy butterscotch notes. I was a believer. Next came the food.

Bursting with four plump blackened Mexican white shrimp drizzled with virgin olive oil on top of baby spinach, pureed black rice, marinated tomatoes, and fresh avocado, the first course was a BIG one. I don’t eat a lot of shrimp, so I couldn’t be the best judge, but a pescatarian at our table said she eats it like it’s going out of style, and THIS was good shrimp. I took her word for it. The simple, rich flavors matched the tequila’s bold, raw notes of pepper and butterscotch. Fantastic.

The second course, Guajillo-spiced pulled pork with cilantro-lime polenta and corn relish, topped with salsa verde, was paired perfectly with Casa Noble Anejo. The Anejo was aged in oak barrels for a year and boasted a much sweeter profile than the Reposado. It had obvious silky notes with hints of chocolate and burnt honey, which cut nicely into the richness of the pulled pork. The smoky notes from the tequila also paired beautifully with the sweet, spicy pork, and the green sauce with habanero matched the alcohol spice of the tequila.

Next came the Empanada de Habichuela, consisting of slow-cooked black beans infused with onions, peppers, tomatoes, chorizo, and panela cheese folded into a flakey pastry crust and finished on smoked enchilada sauce. This course continued the trend of big, bold flavors, harmonizing with the Casa Noble Reposado and matching it on the high notes. At this point it was obvious that this dinner was not about subtlety. It was about punching you in the face with flavor and leaving you wanting more.

The dessert, a Semifreddo de Chocolate y Cacahuate with chili brittle, agave nectar, and assorted edible flowers, was another welcome flavor bomb. When matched with the Single Barrel Anejo sifter, it was heaven.

Semifreddo de Chocolate y Cacahuate with chili brittle, agave nectar and assorted edible flowers

Of all the dinners I’ve attended at Albert’s, this was by far the most interesting. The subject matter was fresher, the atmosphere was wilder (fitting for a zoo!), and the flavors were more intense. Congrats to the experienced craftsmen at Casa Noble and the equally competent staff at Albert’s for bringing the delicious yet again. They’re all magicians as far as I’m concerned.

See the rest of the pics on flickr.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Panda Photo Contest.

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Panda Photo Contest

Nighttime Zoo: China Celebration is all about celebrating the colorful culture and animals of China, and we wanted to have a photo contest as part of the festivities. It just so happens that one of the Chinese animals we’re celebrating, the giant panda, is also one of the most photogenic animals at the San Diego Zoo. So it seemed like a no-brainer to have a panda photo contest!

So what do you get if you win? You and three friends get the VIP treatment with our Backstage Pass! We’ll also use one second-place winner’s photo as our facebook profile pic. Photos must be taken at the Zoo and they must be of our pandas. See the rest of the terms and conditions, and upload your best panda photos, here. We’re looking forward to seeing all your beautiful bear photography. Good luck!

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Butterfly Jungle Preview Dinner.