The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium will add an Impala to its collection this year. The new addition, however, won't be a member of the sleek African antelope group, but the four-door Chevrolet sedan with the same name.
Heartland Chevy Dealers is partnering with Henry Doorly to help support the institution's new exhibits, special events and worldwide animal conservation programs. As part of the yearlong partnership, a half-dozen Chevrolet vehicles — including the new 2014 Impala sedan — will be located at any one time throughout the zoo's 130-acre expanse.
The cars, trucks and SUVs will feature special signs to provide visitors with facts about the vehicles as well as about some of the zoo's most popular animals.
“We are really excited about our zoo partnership,” said Gregg Young, president of Heartland Chevy Dealers, a group of 13 Chevrolet dealers serving the greater Omaha and Lincoln area. He said the dealers can't think of a finer local venue to show area families new Chevy cars and trucks.
Last year, 1.7 million people visited the Omaha zoo.
Heartland, which initiated the partnership, also will sponsor several zoo events throughout the year, including “Spooktacular,” the zoo's annual Halloween event; the Zoo Run; and Zoofari, a twice-yearly fundraising event.
The Omaha Zoo Foundation in concert with Dennis Pate, the zoo's executive director and chief executive, approved the partnership, said Tina Cherica, the foundation's executive director.
“We purposely select partnerships with strong roots in our community, that fit within our family-friendly environment and appreciate the importance of our overall mission as an organization,” Cherica said.
This isn't the first time vehicles have been displayed at Henry Doorly Zoo. During this year's Father's Day event, “Zoom 2013,” Heartland Chevy exhibited new, classic and eco-friendly cars on zoo grounds, which proved a hit with visitors, Cherica said.
She declined to disclose the amount of Heartland's donation, saying the information was confidential.
But is it an odd pairing — autos and aardvarks, pickup trucks and pachyderms?
Not at all, according to the nonprofit Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the accrediting organization for more than 220 North American zoos.
“The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has a really nice relationship with Volkswagen that just opened a factory there,” said association spokesman Steve Feldman. “They have Volkswagens on display on their aquarium plaza.
“The conservation mission is important, and many companies come forward to support it.”
While ticket sales, gift shop sales and paid events are important revenue sources, zoos also rely on individual and corporate philanthropy to further their programs. “If you don't have support, you can't do your mission,” Feldman said.
Since 1984, the Omaha Zoo Foundation has cultivated relationships with charities and corporate entities to raise money to support the zoo's programs and capital projects, Cherica said.
Sponsorships from such groups as Heartland, Mutual of Omaha, First National Bank, Oriental Trading, ConAgra and Omaha Steaks have helped the zoo support its conservation initiatives and, last year, to offer educational events to more than 250,000 children.
As for the off-chance that some visitors might be offended by an auto exhibit at the zoo, Feldman said that “most zoo visitors are inclined to feel good about companies that support conservation programs.”
More on Henry Doorly Zoo
"The Littlest Lion" — A new children's book from the Omaha World-Herald
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo celebrated the birth of five lion cubs, the first born at the zoo since 1994. But the smallest of the cubs, Zuri, faced challenges from the start. The World-Herald's Carol Bicak tells how the littlest lion in the litter survived and thrived in a special family.