January 05, 2017

Conservation commerce in TreeTop Shop Conservation commerce in TreeTop Shop

By Tommy Brown
Saint Louis Zoo Gift Shop Manager
Winner of a 2016 Hermann Foundation Outstanding Employee Award
Vice President of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Buyers Group


Elephant figurines made from repurposed plastic Elephant figurines made from repurposed plastic

Conservation and commerce are not always mutually exclusive. In fact, at the Saint Louis Zoo, we have been involved for several years in some of the most heartening conservation success stories thanks to seeking out and purchasing products for Zoo gift shops.

Purchasing a range of environmentally friendly products hand-crafted by artisans not only supports the Zoo's conservation initiatives, but it also helps eradicate poverty in developing countries.

We have learned that creating a market for products is critical to saving wild things and wild places.  Given economic incentives, those who live in areas of conservation concern will seek out opportunities to express their creativity and sustainably create products. Without the right economic incentives, everything from poaching for elephant ivory or rhino horns to depletion of arable land and available water will happen. 

Animal sculptures made out of auto parts and other recycled materials Animal sculptures made out of auto parts and other recycled materials

Conservation commerce sections of the Zoo’s TreeTop Shop in The Living World and Safari Gift Shop at the South Entrance offer a range of interesting items for the home, personal accessories, collectibles, art, jewelry and much more. Here are some of the products we offer:

  • Metal sculptures in the shape of animals are made from wire recycled from snares once used to kill animals. 
  • Kenyan carvings are produced from sustainable, recycled materials that are harvested legally and in an ecologically friendly way. 
  • Elegant glass sun-catchers and figurines designed to capture nature’s marvels come from small studios in Ecuador. These and other glass pieces are made in part with recycled glass gathered in landfills to help protect children from broken glass as they hunt through these wastelands for aluminum and food scraps.    
  • Animal sculptures of rhinos, ostriches and giraffes are made by Indonesian and Kenyan artists using discarded plastic, pop tops and soda cans. 
  • Auto parts are the core component in hand-crafted Kenyan animal sculptures, with spark plugs and pieces of chain transformed into dragon flies, tarantulas and spiders.
  • Carved marble turtles and other animals come from enterprising artisans in Ecuador.
  • Many handwoven baskets are from The Blessing Basket Project, dedicated to helping artisans around the world become more financially independent. 
  • Accessories include elegant silk scarves, figures and purses made from discarded saris in India; other bags are hand woven in Peru using natural plant fibers and chemical-free dies.
  • Repurposed plastic bottles from China’s trash have been transformed into elephant figures for the Zoo to sell while helping keep plastics out of our oceans. 
  • Figures made from tagua nuts helps artists avoid using elephant ivory and protects the rainforest.
  • And for something truly unique, the Zoo’s shops carry corn plastics made in the USA from real corn, thus depleting our need for petroleum. 
Sculptures made with recycled soda and beer caps Sculptures made with recycled soda and beer caps

We even follow sustainable standards for more common products—like our candy, which is almost entirely free of palm oil or contains Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. https://www.stlzoo.org/about/blog/2016/10/25/selecting-right-products-can-save-animals  

The creation of palm oil plantations is causing the decline of animal and plant species in rainforests since massive trees and foliage are being cleared to make way for plantations. At the Saint Louis Zoo, our Palm Oil Task Force has been working to ensure that as many products as possible come from manufacturers who use only sustainable palm oil.

Recycled glass sun-catchers Recycled glass sun-catchers

In addition, water conservation is encouraged with the sale of refillable water bottles, and the Zoo even sells Elephant Poo Paper made from elephant poop, which children and adults use for crafts, while helping preserve the endangered Asian elephant.

How can you make a difference in the world of conserving wild things and wild places? By doing what we all do every day—consume! Knowing what you buy, where it comes from and how it is being made is to know a product's supply chain and when you know that, you can make informed decisions on how you spend your money.