I don’t think Jennifer O. Reynolds ever saw “stuffed animal designer” in her future, especially since she currently works as a biologist at the Vancouver Aquarium.
But that’s the funny thing about life, isn’t it? You just never know what kind of opportunities will be presented to you.
It all started as a joke – but two years later, Jennifer is delighted and proud to see a stuffed animal of a Xingu River ray (Potamotrygon leopoldi) available for purchase in the Aquarium’s Gift Shop.
Jennifer says when the Aquarium first started displaying Xingu River rays, she quickly fell in love with them for their inquisitive nature and beautiful patterns. She also couldn’t get over how their skin looked like velvet. That’s when she got the idea that the Gift Shop really ought to carry such a toy, not only as something soft that kids could cuddle with, but as a teaching tool.
Jennifer says, “I want people to care about these animals. People will be more interested in helping them in the wild if they know what kind of challenges they face.” The Xingu River ray is found only in one place in the world: the Rio Xingú drainage basin in Brazil. One challenge they face in their natural habitat is the construction of the Belo Monte Dam on this river, which will be one of the world’s largest if completed. It is expected to change the habitats of many different animals.
Jennifer worked closely with Sabrina Lolacher, the merchandise manager, to get the stingray stuffy just right. She says there are marine stingray stuffies out there, but no freshwater ones. In working with Jen, they created a stuffy with a rounder shape, thicker body and polka-dotted pattern.
This is not the first time Sabrina has worked with biologists from different departments. She says it’s important that the Gift Shop merchandise reflects what visitors see in the galleries, in order to make a meaningful connection between their experience here and the keepsake they take home with them.
Sabrina and Jennifer say three designs were passed back and forth between them before they settled on the final version of this velveteen stingray.
But Jen, they’re missing just one important feature – what about their venomous stingers?
“We want ones that we can cuddle, don’t we?”
Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.