In recent weeks, much of the nation has been transfixed by the Netflix show Tiger King. The true-crime documentary miniseries follows the life and times of the eccentric, larger-than-life, gun-toting, country-singing, mullet-sporting zookeeper and convicted felon Joe Exotic. However, at the same time, legitimate zoos and aquariums around the country and the world have been scrambling to adjust to the new coronavirus reality.
In early April, the Bronx Zoo reported that a Malaysian tiger named Nadia had tested positive for COVID-19 after showing respiratory symptoms. While this seems to be an unusual case, various pets around the world have also contracted the virus. Additionally, it seems likely that the coronavirus originated in bats or pangolins before being passed to humans. Zookeepers and wildlife reserve managers are particularly concerned about chimpanzees, gorillas and other great apes, which are known to be susceptible to human respiratory diseases.
Zoos and aquariums, like many institutions that rely on the patronage of vast crowds, are suffering financially. Compelled to shutdown for the time being, they are struggling to finance operating expenses. In substantial zoos, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars a day to feed and provide basic care for the animal population.
However, many zoos and aquariums have found ways to manage the crisis, while at the same time maintaining the connection between their animals and the patrons who love them. Some have launched new animal livestreams and YouTube content featuring funny and furry stars. Others have kicked off sophisticated social media campaigns that highlight some of their “celebrity” residents.
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, USA
The 90-year-old Shedd is one of the largest indoor aquarium facilities in the world. Its 32,000 inhabitants representing some 1500 species attract over 2 million visitors a year. A few weeks ago, the Shedd made waves when it introduced a series of videos featuring its rockhopper penguins. The flightless birds, led by the charismatic Wellington, have been given free rein to explore the public areas of the aquarium. This has led to some curious interactions with other residents, including the belugas. The penguins are so popular that Governor J.B. Pritzker recently joined them for a humorous public service announcement to encourage families and children to stay home and follow health guidelines.
Paradise Park, Cornwall, England
Izzy Wheatley and three of her colleagues are the newest residents of Paradise Park wildlife sanctuary, the Wall Street Journal reports. Concerned about coronavirus exposure and transmission to the animals, the four zookeepers opted to move out of their homes and into the 14-acre facility. Now they maintain strict isolation from outsiders including other workers that regularly come to the site. Wheatley is currently caring for two baby penguins in her own bedroom.
Paradise is home to 1,000 birds along with a handful of small mammal species, including red pandas and Asian otters. The family-run sanctuary is also the headquarters for the World Parrot Trust which has contributed to the conservation of 70 species of parrot in 43 countries.
Ocean Park, Hong Kong
The panda world has been abuzz due to exciting news from Hong Kong. Two giant pandas at Ocean Park oceanarium and animal theme park have successfully mated. Ying Ying and Le Le have been living together for over ten years, but had not previously summoned the motivation to copulate. Apparently bored out of their minds due to quarantine measures, the duo finally did the deed in early April.
Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinatti, USA
The Cincinnati Zoo, established in 1875, is the fifth oldest zoo in the country. It features over 500 animal species along with 3000+ plant species in its Botanical Garden. However, these days, one of the institution’s biggest stars is Fiona the hippo. She was the first hippo born at the zoo in 75 years and, as a premature baby, the experts doubted she would survive. However, the big girl is now 3 years old and thriving. She has an army of supporters who rally around the hashtag #TeamFiona. Also, she is featured in the new line of fashionable face masks the zoo is selling. Due to popular demand, the colorful items are on backorder.