| November 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

Our World-Class San Diego Zoo; It Never Sleeps!
by Laura Walcher

Georgeanne Irvine is pictured with Ruuxa and Raina, who are best friends.

Georgeanne Irvine, director of Corporate Publishing, San Diego Zoo Global leads its newest effort. We talked:

LW: George, we know what’s important here: Floyd, Ruuxa and Raina – and Karen. Soon, we’ll talk more about the San Diego Zoo’s newest outreach, but now, who are these guys and gals? You seem to have quite a personal relationship with them.

GI: Karen, a Sumatran orangutan; Floyd, an American flamingo; Ruuxa, a cheetah, and Raina, a Rhodesian ridgeback and Ruuxa’s best friend, are real animals. Karen and Floyd live at the San Diego Zoo, and Ruuxa & Raina at the Safari Park. They have all overcome major challenges in their lives and are the featured animals in my new “Hope and Inspiration” children’s book series. Their true tales are heartwarming. The idea behind the books is to introduce children to animals whose stories will create empathy for all wildlife.

Here’s a synopsis of each book:
“Karen’s Heart: The True Story of a Brave Baby Orangutan” is about Karen, a baby orangutan who survives history-making open-heart surgery to repair a hole in her heart. Then, when faced with a challenging recovery because of an unexpected issue with her lungs, she received get-well cards and the support of well-wishers from around the globe. Karen is now 26 years old, healthy, and still lives at the Zoo.

“Fabulous Floyd: The True Story of a Flamingo Who Never Gave Up” is dedicated to Floyd who is a special “ambassador” who was born with two left feet. After facing challenging surgeries—one on each leg—Floyd helps his caretakers learn about never giving up. Floyd now lives with other flamingos and is part of the Zoo’s Animals in Action program. These friendly flamingos meet and greet Zoo visitors.

“Ruuxa & Raina: A Cheetah and Dog’s True Story of Friendship and Miracles” is about Ruuxa, a cheetah, and Raina, a Rhodesian ridgeback, who grew up together and became best friends. Each faced a major challenge in life: Ruuxa was born with bowed legs, and veterinarians thought he would never be able to run. Raina developed terminal cancer and was given only weeks to live when she was two years old. Each animal beat the odds and they are now healthy and living at the Safari Park. Ruuxa can run 70 miles per hour and Raina is cancer-free.

LW: Is the San Diego Zoo Global Press the organization’s first new organization? How did the idea originate?

GI: San Diego Zoo Global Press Is our newest endeavor. It has been the dream of Douglas Myers, our CEO, to create this book publishing division. We are writing books for children as well as for adults. San Diego Zoo Global creates new divisions such as this that help us with our mission/vision to save animals by leading the fight against extinction. We also have San Diego Zoo Kids Network, a closed-circuit television channel that airs at 180 children’s hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses. The San Diego Zoo Global Academy is an online learning program with classes that serve 180 zoos, aquariums, and universities.

LW: San Diego Zoo Global is already renowned for its conservation, animal care, preservation and presentation. What does this new publishing arm bring to its efforts?

GI: Over the years our stories have been told in ZOONOOZ Magazine and a variety of other publications, along with numerous websites, and other educational programs and tours. The next logical step was to create our own books, which now enable us to tell our stories in a more in-depth manner, with a much longer shelf life. For example, one of the books for adults that will be out in 2020 is the story about how the California condor was saved from extinction. Our children’s books are designed to teach kids empathy for animals and inspire them to care about wildlife and the natural world.

LW: You’ve written all three of these new books. With your amazing zeal and affection, I can’t help feel that you have quite a personal connection to these lucky animals?

GI: I’m honored to have been able to write our first books, but it takes a village—or a zoo full of people—to create them. The animals I’ve written about—and the trainers, keepers, and veterinarians who have cared for them—hold a special place in my heart and are a true inspiration to me.

I was in public relations at the San Diego Zoo in 1994, when Karen orangutan had her open-heart surgery. I watched the surgery from a window in the Zoo hospital that overlooked the operating room, and then helped tell her story to the media and the public. Karen had life-threatening complications. It was a tough time for all of us – we weren’t sure she would survive. But Karen rallied and the community rallied behind her. I’ll never forget the day she went back into her exhibit for the first time. We cried tears of joy and relief!

With Floyd, I was friends with his trainers and followed his remarkable story as it unfolded. And with Ruuxa and Raina, I became personally involved with them when Raina was diagnosed with terminal cancer. To watch Raina’s remarkable recovery evolve convinced me that miracles do exist.

LW: How do their stories exemplify the work of San Diego Zoo Global?

GI: Our books illustrate the dedication of our staff and the love they have for our animals. They also show the great lengths San Diego Zoo Global will go to care for our animals and give them the best lives possible.

LW: Have you received your medal for San Diego Zoo longevity? Describe your career – for which, I might add, we are profoundly grateful.

GI: I’ve worked for San Diego Zoo Global for more than 40 years now. Believe it or not, there are many colleagues who have worked for the Zoo even longer. I vividly remember my first day of work as a public relations assistant, March 22, 1978. My job was a dream-come-true for me, but it didn’t at all occur to me that the Zoo would become my life-long career. I’m the luckiest person in the world to be working with such a great organization on behalf the earth’s precious wildlife. Our mission, to save wildlife by leading the fight against extinction, is incredibly important to me. My personal mission is to help animals by sharing their stories with the public, and inspiring people to care about endangered species and their habitats, as well as to take action to protect and save them. Now, becoming the director of Corporate Publishing is my third career at the Zoo.

LW: How and where are your books available – besides the Zoo, of course?

GI: The books can be purchased on site at the Zoo and Safari Park, and online at shopzoo.com. Soon, too, the books will soon be available at major bookstores and on Amazon.

LW: Are any events planned with your animal friends, events for children and families?

GI: Visitors can see Karen and Floyd every day at the Zoo. Karen lives with our other orangutans in the exhibit close to the main entrance. Floyd isn’t at the Flamingo Lagoon at the Zoo’s main entrance; he lives with his cronies at a lagoon near the giraffe exhibit on the north side of the Zoo (near the koalas, too). If people participate in the Zoo’s Animals in Action experience, they might have the opportunity to feed Floyd. At the Safari Park, people can see Ruuxa and Raina run at Shiley’s Cheetah Run. They run several times a week. They also might be able to see them going for a walk in Nairobi Village.

LW: When can we expect your next book(s)?

GI: My next three hope and inspiration books are in the works. They will be out in fall of 2019. The animals that will be featured are Mosi Musa, a young vervet monkey; Moka and Rakan, both tiger cubs; and Don, a Baird’s tapir.

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