NORFOLK -- A new breed of animal at the Virginia Zoo has an amazing story to tell. It begins along the shores of Africa where the animals start out as flip-flops.
A Kenyan company called Ocean Sole got creative and started a unique recycling effort that involves recovering flip-flops that wash up along the beaches and cause a disaster for the ecosystem.
"About 400 people work the waterways and beaches to collect the items, and, then, there's about 100 artisans that actually carve and create the animals," said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director at Virginia Zoo.
The flip-flops get cleaned, cut, and compressed, and then shaped into colorful animals. What was a hazard for sea life now creates jobs and sustainability.
"It's absolutely a remarkable conservation, water preservation, wildlife cleanup effort," Bockheim told 13News Now.
He discovered the company while he was traveling in Africa and decided to order the animals for the gift shop at the zoo. Proceeds will help fund the new animal wellness campus.
"It's an amazing new site that will open in the zoo next spring, but it was a $4-million-dollar construction project," Bockheim explained. "We're in the tail end raising just like the last 5% of that 4 million dollars."
Bockheim added people at the zoo have talked with Ocean Sole about a project that would involve people in Hampton Roads bringing their flip-flops to the zoo. Staff members would mail the shoes to the studio where a marquee animal for the zoo could be created then used for further fundraising.