Let’s Bug Out with El Paso Zoo’s Sarah Borrego

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February 28, 2022

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(EL PASO, Texas)—Sarah Borrego’s Quit Bugging Me event is a cheeky anti-Valentine’s Day fundraiser held at the El Paso Zoo. Participants choose an amount to donate and get to name bugs after their exes that are then fed to zoo animals such as meerkats, birds, reptiles, and monkeys.

In its four years of inception, the event has raised over $46,000, allowing for people to donate to a good cause all while reconciling over bad breakups. People interested in the event can either attend in person or watch live streams on the zoo’s Facebook page.

 In an interview with The Click, Borrego, a former event coordinator now marketing specialist, explains how she took the event from concept to reality.

 The Click: What is the Quit Bugging Me event about? 

Sarah Borrego: Four years ago, we were meeting as a team kind of deciding what we were going to do for our year with events [and] how we were going to get people in. It was around the beginning of the year, and we thought well Valentine’s is coming up. What should we do? We didn’t really have a website or anything [then]. We just tried it regionally, and it blew up. It went viral the very first year!

 The Click: Who thought of the event, and how did they think of it?

Borrego: I was still bitter from a breakup, so I was very anti-Valentine’s Day. Just the whole thought of it grossed me out. I was working with some animal people here, and they’re like, “Well, you know we feed the animals cockroaches.” I’m like, “Oh, my God, well my ex was a cockroach!” So, we all kind of brainstormed. [I thought] I’m going to name this cockroach after my ex, Ricky. And, I’m going to feed it to a meerkat.

 The Click: What needs to happen logistically to make the event successful?

Borrego: We have a new director on board. What he added to it was for every $1,000 raised he eats a cockroach. [I] make sure that we have animals that can participate who [can] eat cockroaches [because] we have animals who are allergic to cockroaches. The feeder roaches that we have are ethically frozen to abide by rules with our accreditation. 

 We’ve also expanded to crickets and worms. [The animals] put on a good show with the worms where they pull it and all of the guts fly out. It’s disgusting! Once the campaign kicks off, I work very closely with our internal IT team. They’re the ones that handle the website. They’ll send me the list [of donations and names of exes].

 We’re still taking donations right now. I will meet again with the budget team. We go ahead and get those final numbers, and we’ll definitely do a little announcement thanking everyone involved.

The Click: How do donations help support the zoo and its global impact?

Borrego: All of the [donated] money stays right here at the zoo for programs like enrichment to either purchase tanks for the cockroaches or if the [veterinarians] need a new machine. The first year, we did send it to some conservation clinics that we are involved with like Lion Guardianship in Africa. We’ve got some bird conservations in South America. 

All over the world, we’ve got interviews throughout all four years with BBC, NPR, Australia, Canada, Ireland, [and] India. I’ve gotten up at two in the morning to do interviews overseas.

The Click: What kind of positive (and negative) feedback have you received about the event?

Borrego: We get a lot of good closure stories. We get the full story. “Why we broke up, this is what he did to me, but thanks to this event, it’s helping me heal. It’s helping me to seek therapy. It’s opened my eyes to not all people are like this, [and] maybe, I’m open to dating now.” It’s been great. 

Negative [feedback we have received is] that we’re killing bugs for entertainment. That we were sinners because we are putting our sins into the cockroach, and that negative energy is getting fed to the meerkat, and the meerkat was going to die. [However], we do our best every day to replicate their diets [in the wild]. Sorry, but meerkats eat bugs.

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