Zoos take to social media to cheer and fundraise amid virus
PHOENIX (AP) – The Phoenix Zoo, struggling like others around the world during coronavirus shutdowns, has found an unlikely savior in a sloth.
While Fernando may be a slow mover offline, 4-year-old Linne’s two-fingered sloth has grown rapidly on the internet. Since Fernando joined Cameo, a video-sharing platform where people pay for celebrity screams, the zoo has received 150 requests for a personalized clip. Its popularity has allowed the zoo to increase its fees from $ 25 to $ 50.
“I think we’ve gotten more creative, kind of thinking a little bit outside the box. We’re trying things we’ve never done before, ”said Bert Castro, president and CEO of the Phoenix Zoo.
Social media is a way zoos around the world engage with people who can no longer visit – their main source of income – and raise much-needed money. Zoos and aquariums have provided an adorable distraction by posting photos and videos of animals, but the closures mean they’re still in danger. While a handful of zoos, from Utah to Germany, have started to reopen with social distancing rules, it’s unclear when they will reach their usual levels of visitors and income.
Besides jobs, animal welfare is at stake.
“They can’t just send their employees home, turn off the lights and lock the doors. They have to take care of the animals, ”said Dan Ashe, president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The association’s 220 U.S. zoos and aquariums, which typically house 200 million people a year, have all closed, Ashe said. A recent survey showed that over 60% have laid off or put employees on leave.
About 60% of its members have applied for loans through the federal coronavirus relief program intended to limit layoffs at small businesses and nonprofits.
The Phoenix Zoo, a million-dollar-per-month operation, has been losing $ 80,000 a day since it closed on March 18, Castro said. The facility in the nation’s fifth largest city was approved for a $ 2.7 million federal loan and has raised hundreds of thousands of people online for its 3,000 animals.
Castro believes behind-the-scenes Facebook Live videos make people feel more connected to the zoo. Over the past month, the number of viewers has increased by 350% and its number of Instagram followers is increasing. Fernando’s appearances on Cameo may be a little boost, but “it’s so popular that we’ll continue for as long as we can,” Castro said.
The Oakland Zoo in the San Francisco Bay Area recently brought back more than 200 full-time employees – at least until June – after securing loans under the federal program. It also launched an online subscription program offering daily behind-the-scenes videos with animals and zookeepers. It’s $ 14.95 per month; $ 9.95 for zoo members.
“Our goal is just to get to the point where they allow us to reopen our doors and people can come and enjoy the animals,” zoo president Joel Parrott said.
The Toronto Zoo is live streaming moments such as the red pandas weigh-in, drawing tens of thousands of new social media followers, spokeswoman Amanda Chambers said. The strategy also sheds light on lesser-known animals.
“This is an opportunity to highlight species that often don’t get much publicity,” said CEO Dolf DeJong. “For us, it’s being able to talk about Blanding’s Turtles, an endangered species from our community that we breed.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California captivates people with a live broadcast of African penguins and sharks. He also created “MeditOceans” YouTube videos to meditate on the sights and sounds of ocean creatures. Divers brightened up their kelp forest maintenance routine with a dance to the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Jump On It’ in a popular video.
The financial rush is taking its toll on zoos around the world.
Bioparque Estrella, a safari theme park outside Mexico City, hopes to make do with sufficient funds until a tentative reopening this month. He mainly uses social media to promote discounted advance tickets. Over 1,000 tickets were sold, well below the 10,000 visitors seen at Easter last year.
In Germany, the government is letting zoos reopen with social distancing restrictions. Zoos were trying to cut costs during closures – the most important being staff salaries – and some have solicited donations from the public, said Volker Homes, head of the German Association of Zoological Gardens.
Recent reports that a cash-strapped German zoo was planning to feed some animals to others have sparked outrage. But Homes said last month there was no reason to fear for the safety of an animal.
In Poland, where zoos have been closed since mid-March, lack of ticket income threatens their future and they are asking people for financial support.
Private zoos are in a particularly difficult situation. The popular Zoo Safari in central Poland, known for breeding white lions and rare tigers, lost most of its income overnight. It offers advance ticket vouchers for the 2020 and 2021 seasons to help fund the care of its 600 animals. He also launched a crowdfunding page.
ZSL London Zoo used social media to promote itself and frontline workers. It sits near several hospitals and has allowed medical workers to use its parking lot, where many giraffes Maggie and Molly spot through the fence during lunch breaks, according to the zoo’s Facebook page. He shared photos and videos of the giraffes in front of a sign honoring medical workers.
Associated Press editors Terry Chea in Oakland, California, Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this report.