During the current pandemic, zoos around the globe have shuttered their gates, many left uncertain about when they can reopen to the public. Individual zoos have weathered natural disasters, depressions, and wars throughout history, but the current health crisis has affected the world zoo community on a grand scale not seen since possibly the tuberculosis outbreaks of the early to mid-twentieth century, which affected humans and animals alike. (However, there is now concern that the coronavirus might impact the wild great ape population.) Some zoos even lost their entire primate collections to the disease. While we have orders to stay at home, finish school terms remotely, and search for ways to entertain ourselves and families, the zoo community has been a tremendous resource. The care teams have pledged to “bring the zoo to you,” showing they’re “closed but still caring.”
Many zoos are filling the void, but I wanted to highlight some of the videos that I have found most entertaining and thank the zoos and aquariums for providing us with such joy during these scary times.
Aquarium Field Trips
I believe the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago started the adorable trend of allowing their penguins roam the empty halls of their building. Wellington has become an internet sensation.
And then, there’s the adorable staring contest at the Mystic Aquarium:
Other aquariums have joined the cuteness contest, and I don’t think it can get any cuter than these puppies at the Georgia Aquarium:
Zoo Meet and Greets
While the zoos are devoid of visitors, one advantage is that some animals get to stretch their legs more than usual and receive enrichment that they would not normally enjoy. One adorable example is Pumbaa meeting the Timons at the Cincinnati Zoo:
Bactrian camels Patrick and George at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse even starred in a three-part adventure walk:
Perhaps the most valuable way zoos are contributing during the pandemic is providing lessons and activities for children and adults alike. The Cincinnati Zoo has hosted Home Safari sessions to feature a different animal each day and suggesting homework assignments for children to submit. Of course, their first session featured Fiona the hippo and her mother Bibi.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has also hosted a fun series aptly called “Abnormally Normal,” highlighting animals from their amazing giraffe herd to their flock of ambassador chickens.
- I would also like to give a shout-out to Utah’s Hogle Zoo, whose marketing department always does a fantastic job with airing interesting animals and events. Two I have especially enjoyed are the sand cat introduction (featuring Mr. Whitecheeks!) and the rhino butt painting session!
Webcams are not new to the zoo world. The panda cams at the National Zoo and Zoo Atlanta are two of the most viewed out there. One favorite of mine right now is the San Diego Zoo’s Ape Cam. If I’m not careful I could watch orangutan Aisha play with young siamang Sela for hours! However, a few zoos have implemented webcams since they’ve closed. Two to check out are the Oklahoma City Zoo’s Red Panda Cam and Denver Zoo’s Baby Rhino Cam.
One of the reasons it’s so hard not to be able to visit the zoo right now is that as spring arrives, so do baby animals. Fortunately, many zoos are using their social media channels to make sure we get a dose of the cuteness. Welcome to the baby sloth bear at the Philadelphia Zoo, the baby polar bear at the Columbus Zoo, and baby Riva the Asian elephant at Chester Zoo:
While the zoo and aquarium staffs continue to do important work caring for the animals and bringing their institutions to us while we are stuck at home, I encourage you to do what you can to show your support. Become a member, renew your existing membership, check out your local zoo’s enrichment wishlist (contact them if you don’t know how to find it), or pledge to visit when they are able to reopen. You can also sign this petition to help ensure that AZA-accredited institutions receive much-needed emergency funding from Congress. In her interview with Corbin Maxey, Andie Haugen from the Cincinnati Zoo provides a picture of what zoos are facing right now. Give it a listen, and please continue to stay at home until it is safe to return to normal life.