Safari's "toy guru" sales rep Carlos Guerrero at Play Fair
Safari Ltd., the family-owned manufacturer and worldwide distributor of over 1,000 hand-painted educational toys, rolled out its 2018 collection of mostly animal figures at the recent Play Fair toy and pop culture event at New York’s Javits Center, and foremost among them had to be Bernie the Gator, “a friend to all animals,” asserts the company, “protector of nature [and] a champion of knowledge, creativity and conservation.”
Named for company founder Bernard A. Rubel, Bernie is also Safari’s proud mascot: “With his friendly features, Bernie is a bit more stylized than our usual ultra accurate offerings,” says Safari. “His edges aren’t quite as rough as those of most alligators, reflecting his soft and warm nature.”
Part of the Wild Safari Wildlife collection, Gator Bernie (Scientific Name: Alligator mississippiensis) is 5 ½ inches long and 1 ½ inches tall (to the tip of his snout). He’s green above and cream colored below, with a dark green pattern on the bony skin-like scutes that cover his back.
This new Bernie figure is the first full-sized version, following a previously released tiny one available in Safari’s Good Luck Minis collection. Bernie is also featured prominently in Safari’s online and printed promotional materials and branding imagery; “Bernie Bucks,” accumulated via product purchases and activities including liking Safari on Facebook, can be redeemed for rewards.
Bernard and Rosemarie Rubel founded Safari in 1982 after discovering an endangered species card game while visiting the Munich Zoo in Germany. Passionate about education through play, they transformed the card game into Safari’s signature collection of high-quality figures coveted by children, adults, educators and collectors.
Bernie is an alligator because of Safari’s headquarters in Miami Lakes, Florida, where a much-repeated Bernard Rubel quote reflecting the company’s philosophy is, “Through play, children learn about themselves, their environment and the world at large. At Safari Ltd, we design toys that enrich the joy of play. In a highly technical world, the most endangered species is the imagination. Perhaps we should spell that with a capital ‘I’. Without imagination, the individual loses their creative spark. We intend to never let that happen.”
Another reason for Bernie being a gator--a member of the crocodilian order--is that, as noted in a whimsical Bernie bio on the Safari website, his “father” loved the great tennis player nicknamed "The Crocodile.” That would most likely be France’s Rene Lacoste, who was indeed nicknamed The Crocodile and whose Lacoste clothing company’s famous logo is a green croc.