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  • San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance to Participate in the 135th Rose Parade®

    December 13, 2023 4 min read

    “It Began with a Roar” 2024 SDZWA Rose Parade Float

    2024 Rose Parade Float Commemorates the San Diego Zoo’s 107-year History

    Highlights Include a Resilient Orangutan, a Young-at-heart Polar Bear and the Lion Who Started It All

    SAN DIEGO (November 27, 2023) – For the third consecutive year, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance will partner with the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena and participate in the 135th Rose Parade® presented by Honda on New Year’s Day. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s parade float theme— “It Began with a Roar”—will feature a myriad of heartwarming stories from the San Diego Zoo that have inspired generations to care for and protect wildlife.

    The Rose Parade is one of the world's most storied traditions, celebrating the hope and optimism a new year brings. The “It Began with a Roar” float will bring to life the vibrant sounds and rhythms of nature, offering a global symphony of music and a resounding way of connecting all of us—wildlife, people and the planet we share.

    “For 107 years, we’ve experienced the spirit of Rex the Lion’s mighty roar, which sparked a dream to bring our world-renowned organization to life—right in the heart of San Diego,” said Paul A. Baribault, president and chief executive officer, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “Over the past century, we’ve evolved to meet the growing needs of wildlife, offering millions of guests who visit our two leading zoos every year the opportunity to explore immersive conservation experiences and connect with the world’s wildlife. The Rose Parade is near and dear to many, and we want to share our stories of nature and conservation with the world.”

    From the animated calls of flamingos to the soulful heartbeats of an orangutan and the soothing sounds of century-old tortoises, the float will represent the harmonious music of wildlife that echoes across our planet. Rex the lion will stand tall on a ridge overlooking the rest of the 55-foot float, letting out a thunderous roar—akin to the one that sparked a dream more than a century ago and inspired the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. A Sumatran orangutan, inspired by Karen at the San Diego Zoo Lost Forest habitat, will watch intently as a Quino checkerspot butterfly dances on her finger. Karen the orangutan, now 31 years old and thriving, was born with a heart defect. She was cared for by San Diego Zoo veterinarians and received lifesaving open-heart surgery from a surgeon experienced in treating people with heart issues.

    Leading the way at the front of the float, a polar bear—designed after Chinook at the San Diego Zoo Polar Plunge—glides through the ocean. Disappearing sea ice threatens the survival of polar bears, and evidence shows that loss of sea ice is correlated with declines in a polar bear’s body condition, reproductive success, and survival. For many years, polar bears at the San Diego Zoo have participated in scientific studies and conservation efforts to help save the species in the face of climate change.

    The San Diego Zoo’s own Matt Akel will be riding on the float with his wife Courtney, and their daughter Meadow. Matt joined San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in 2002 as a wildlife care specialist on the polar bear team, where he cared for 7-year-old Chinook. Now, 21 years later, Matt is the associate curator of mammals who leads the polar bear program and the team caring for 28-year-old “young at heart” Chinook.

    "When I was 10 years old growing up in New Jersey, I visited the San Diego Zoo with my family,” said Matt. “Visiting the zoo as a child was part of my inspiration to pursue a lifelong career in wildlife care and conservation. Every time I have the opportunity to interact with Chinook, it brings back special memories from my time with her at the start of my career, and why we work so hard to protect these incredible animals. Polar bears are near and dear to my heart, and I have an extreme passion to want to protect their wild Arctic environment before it's too late."

    The purposefully designed float incorporates the stories of the San Diego Zoo and represents the mission of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, utilizing mesmerizing plants and a dazzling array of flowers—featuring, of course, roses. The floral array on the float will also illustrate that both the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and San Diego Zoo are accredited botanical gardens—and serve as a reminder of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s dedication to plant conservation through its many efforts, including the Wildlife Biodiversity Bank.

    In the 2023, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Rose Parade float celebrated the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s 50th anniversary. The float’s theme, “Celebrating 50 Years of Conservation,” won the Animation Award for most outstanding use of animation. The giraffes and rhinos on the float were animated, with the rhinos seemingly coming to life as they turned their heads and the giraffes moving their long necks and bending down for a cool drink of water from a flowing waterfall.

    San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is an international nonprofit conservation organization that operates two world-class parks—the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park—and empowers people to connect with plants and animals, develop an appreciation for nature and contribute to the safeguarding of wildlife everywhere by becoming Wildlife Allies. The two wildlife parks are home to over 17,000 rare and endangered animals, representing more than 1,000 species and subspecies. Both parks also host more than 2 million individual plants representing close to 13,000 specimens, and close to 7,000 species. Welcoming nearly 6 million guests and touching countless others each year, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park inspire wildlife allies from around the globe. Here, conservation comes to life as generations experience the magnitude and wonder of the world’s wildlife. Guests are invited to take part in exciting educational experiences and create lasting memories, while supporting San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation efforts worldwide—and it all started with a roar.

    Celebrate the 2024 Pasadena Tournament of Roses and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance with new limited edition items. To honor our third consecutive Rose Parade float, bring home the animated calls of flamingos, the lion's powerful roar, and the world's wildlife with a long sleeve tee, mug, collector's pin, and commemorative ornament. The float theme of “It Began with a Roar” dives into our iconic stories. Snag these 2024 Rose Parade collectibles while supplies last—don't miss out, shop here!

    SDZWA Rose Parade Merchandise

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