San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s celebrity animal-themed float won the Sweepstakes Trophy, the top prize, in the 135th Rose Parade on Monday in Pasadena.
This year marked only the fourth time the Zoo has ever participated in the storied event, which attracted nearly 90 floats – each hand-decorated by armies of volunteers with roses, flowers, moss and other plants.
The zoo’s float, titled “It Began With a Roar,” depicted famous wildlife from the zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, including Rex the lion, whose noisy roar more than a century ago is said to have inspired the zoo’s creation.
The Sweepstakes Trophy is the grand prize of 23 awards given out each year by the Tournament of Roses Parade judges. It honors the parade’s most beautiful entry, encompassing float design, floral presentation and entertainment. This is the 100th anniversary of the Sweepstakes award.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance worked with Artistic Entertainment Services to design and build the float. Hundreds of alliance team members and volunteers worked for weeks to build and decorate the 55-foot float, which featured animals that now live, or who once lived, at the zoo or safari park and they represent the zoo’s efforts to protect endangered species.
At the front of the float was Chinook the polar bear, who lives at the zoo; koalas Omeo and Cynthia, who are among the zoo’s collection, which is the largest colony of the marsupials outside Australia; Karen the orangutan, who was the first of her kind to undergo open-heart surgery in 2019; an endangered butterfly; and Grandma, a 137-year-old Galapagos tortoise at the zoo; and four flamingos.
Rex, the lion stood atop a tall, rocky promontory at the rear of the float. According to zoo lore, Dr. Harry Wegeforth and his brother were driving by caged animals left behind from the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park when they heard a lion roar and it got them thinking of ways to bring a permanent wildlife exhibition to Balboa Park. The zoo’sfloat played recorded sounds of animals, including a loud lion’s roar.
The zoo first entered the Rose Parade in 1996 with a float celebrating the zoo’s 80th anniversary. Its 2022 float celebrated the Alliance’s global conservation efforts; and its 2023 float celebrated the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s 50th anniversary. The 2023 float won the parade’s Animation award for most outstanding use of animation.
“We are humbled and honored to receive the Sweepstakes Trophy, but more importantly, we are grateful the Rose Parade allows San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance an opportunity to share our conservation message with a global audience,” said Paul A. Baribault, president and chief executive officer, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, in a statement. “At the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the impact of conservation comes to life as our visitors experience the magnitude and wonder of nature. We are able to make a connection between people and wildlife with the hope that connection will inspire them to save, protect and care for wildlife worldwide.”