Zoos, aquariums get creative and go virtual amid pandemic to raise funds, keep visitors engaged

Posted at 3:34 PM, Apr 22, 2020

Zoos and aquariums across the nation have been hit hard. No visitors means no money, and they still have to feed and take care of the animals.

Many zoos are having to get creative, like the Cincinnati Zoo, where visits are now virtual. The facility and its keepers rely on daily web interactions with thousands of people from around the world.

People can react to the videos on Facebook and ask questions. Visitors can also donate. Digital Engagement & Publicity Manager Angela Hatke says that money has been anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000, and that it has been helping the zoo.

The Cincinnati Zoo had to lay off some of its staff, as it costs $80,000 a day to keep the zoo running and $1.2 million a year just to feed the animals. Those donations are now more important than ever.

The pandemic and shutdowns have left zoos and aquariums like the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California reeling, trying to remain connected to its members and visitors.

“We’ve even done live dissections of fish and squid, and kids can get a certificate of completion,” said Aquarium of the Pacific President Dr. Jerry Schubel.

In his 18 years at the aquarium, Dr. Schubel has never experienced anything like this. The marine facility has taken its puppet show to the internet and dedicated seven webcams to popular exhibits.

“We have a new penguin egg. They can log on and watch the parents take care of this egg and they’ll be able to see it hatch and penguin hatchlings are beautiful little birds," Dr. Schubel described.

The aquarium also recently made staff reductions in order to focus solely on the animals and their nutritional and environmental needs.

“Over the course of a year, we spend more than $400,000 to feed our animals,” he said.

Seventy-five percent of the aquarium's budget comes from admission, food and gift sales. And while they're not seeking donations right now, they are hoping everyone will come back and attend the many fundraisers they've got planned for the future.