Zoo Keepers Serve Spaghetti, Raise $25,000 for Grizzly Bear Conservation

October, 15 2013  |  by kevin Back »

What do grizzly bears and spaghetti have in common? An Internet surfer searching for an answer might find a little-known rock group called Spaghetti Bears. Or one might find strands of spaghetti from the Grizzly Kitchen, or “dinky bear” chefs serving spaghetti. But only one organization serves plates of spaghetti for the benefit of wildlife conservation.

The Brookfield Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) hosts annual spaghetti dinner fundraisers to help protect and conserve grizzly bear habitat. Last spring, the Brookfield Chapter raised thousands of dollars for Vital Ground. The event was held in Brookfield, Ill., home of the organization and the Chicago Zoological Society, a private nonprofit that operates the Brookfield Zoo.

According to Bill Steele, Brookfield AAZK Chapter president and a senior animal keeper of the Mammal Department of the Chicago Zoological Society at the Brookfield Zoo, the Brookfield Chapter is a nonprofit volunteer organization made up of professional zoo keepers and others dedicated to professional animal care and conservation. Steele said the chapter aids local, national and international conservation organizations.

“While searching for a national conservation effort, we discovered Vital Ground and learned what a great organization it is,” he said. “We became aware of Stuart Strahl’s involvement with Vital Ground, and our contribution is sort of thank you to him for all he does for the Brookfield Chapter of AAZK.”

Strahl is president/CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society and director of the world-famous Brookfield Zoo. He also serves as chairman of Vital Ground’s board of trustees.

The Brookfield Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers hosts annual spaghetti dinner fundraisers to help protect and conserve grizzly bear habitat. Since 2010, they have raised more than $25,000 for The Vital Ground Foundation. Photo by Brookfield AAZK.

The Brookfield Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers hosts annual spaghetti dinner fundraisers to help protect and conserve grizzly bear habitat. Since 2010, they have raised more than $25,000 for The Vital Ground Foundation. Photo by Brookfield AAZK.

The Brookfield chapter has held four Vital Ground spaghetti fundraisers in as many years. Since 2010, they have raised more than $25,000 for the Montana-based land trust’s conservation efforts. At last spring’s fundraiser, 350 attendees were entertained by local celebrity Svengoolie, who has a long-running horror movie TV program that airs in the Chicago area and recently became nationally syndicated. The event included dinner, door prizes, merchandise and a silent auction. A “Bart the Bear” paw bronze casting brought in $1,000. The March 21 event raised more than $5,000 to help conserve and protect grizzly bear habitat.

The local chapter is a subset of the national organization of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, which began at the San Diego Zoo in 1967 when zookeepers wanted to develop a way to continue their education, and share knowledge with peers.

Local chapters were developed that allowed keepers at different institutions across the country to increase that communication about animal care, establish national conferences and contribute to conservation efforts. The Brookfield Chapter, in addition to the fantastic partnership with Vital Ground, boasts a long list of achievements since their formation in 2004.

They have raised funds to send keepers to National AAZK conferences and species-specific care conferences. Locally, they encourage recycling and devote special days to help clean-up the environment. In addition to their annual Vital Ground spaghetti fundraiser event, the Brookfield Chapter hosts annual “Bowling for Rhinos” events with all proceeds donated to Rhino conservation and miniature golf outings for invertebrate conservation.

Grizzly bears and other wildlife that utilize open space thanks the Brookfield Chapter for their conservation efforts. Vital Ground, too, recognizes the Brookfield Chapter of the AAZK for becoming a stand-out partner in conservation. Thank you for helping protect and restore grizzly bear habitat!