Phoenix Zoo goes digital amid coronavirus closure

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PHOENIX – Businesses across the country are closing their doors because of the coronavirus outbreak. For some businesses, like zoos, it’s not that easy. Many zoos across America have been forced to close to visitors but staff need to remain at work to care for the animals.

"Keepers have to be here to care for the animals that can’t stop, they’re living breathing things and they need to be fed, they need to be let out, they need to be cared for and that must go on," said Linda Hardwick, director of communications for the Phoenix Zoo.

Staff at the Phoenix Zoo entertaining the mandrills (Stephanie Bennett/ Fox News).

Staff at the Phoenix Zoo entertaining the mandrills (Stephanie Bennett/ Fox News).

March and April are typically the busiest times of the year at the Phoenix Zoo.

“It’s so sad and so surreal, I’ve been here almost 10 years and I’ve never seen anything like this … you’re not smelling the kettle corn, you’re not hearing the carousel go off every few minutes,” said Hardwick.

Elephants at the Phoenix Zoo (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Elephants at the Phoenix Zoo (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Since closing its doors to visitors, this nonprofit zoo is losing on average between $70,000 to $115,000 a day in admissions, retail and food revenue.

“We would be seeing about six to seven thousand people a day and we have zero guests right now,” said Hardwick.

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In the meantime, they’re trying to keep spirits high. If the guests can’t come to the animals, they’ll bring the animals to the guests.

“We did a live Facebook yesterday, and Instagram, and we had so many people from different states tuning in,” said Hardwick.

Staff at the Phoenix Zoo created a ‘Digital Safari’ uploading daily animal videos, interviews, and photos to their website and social media pages. Fans across the country showed interest.

The Phoenix Zoo has turned to the digital world after the Coronavirus forced them to close. Fans across the country are tuning in to their daily live streams, helping raise money and keep operations going (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

The Phoenix Zoo has turned to the digital world after the Coronavirus forced them to close. Fans across the country are tuning in to their daily live streams, helping raise money and keep operations going (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

“In just the first 48 hours when we launched our Digital Safari from closing on Wednesday we’ve had a half a million impressions on our website and social channels combined … and we had such a good reaction and we had moms at home saying 'thank you so much for entertaining my five-year-old and giving them something to learn',” said Hardwick.

They’re also keeping the animals' minds stimulated by taking them on walks. Dinky the Donkey joined the Phoenix Zoo a few weeks ago. It was his turn to take a stroll around the zoo. Zookeepers took her to see other animals like chickens, cows and goats. Keepers say this is a great form of enrichment and helps keep their minds and bodies active.

Zoo keepers are taking animals like Dinky the Donkey on walks to keep their minds and bodies active (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Zoo keepers are taking animals like Dinky the Donkey on walks to keep their minds and bodies active (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Zoo staff are taking turns playing with the goats in the petting zoo. They say typically children are playing with them all day long and now the goats are lonely.

“We are only closed one day out of the year which is Christmas Day, so normally these goats have a ton of attention every single day so the past couple days in the middle of the day they’ve been crying and bleating and asking us to come over,” said Becky Manning, Living Collection manager for the Equine Farm Areas of the Phoenix Zoo.

They’ve also started reading stories to the animals. Senior guide Susan Stoltz not only works at the zoo but also writes children’s books about the animals.

“I involve the keepers in writing about these animals in the back of the book and how they care for them and why they’re important to the environment,” said Stoltz.

Senior guide and author Susan Stoltz reads 'A Flamboyance, a Crash and a Dazzle' story book to the Flamingos (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Senior guide and author Susan Stoltz reads 'A Flamboyance, a Crash and a Dazzle' story book to the Flamingos (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Staff have been uploading the storytelling videos to their social media pages for fans to enjoy. They hope the animals enjoy the company and enrichment.

“It’s different, it’s not that they actually understand what I’m doing but it’s something that they have not seen before, that they need to explore, it gives them something different in their day,” said Stoltz.

As a nonprofit, the Phoenix Zoo relies on donations from the public. The zoo says that it is closed indefinitely until the coronavirus outbreak passes and it is allowed to reopen. It is asking for donations or for the public to sign up for memberships. The memberships would kick in when the zoo reopens.

Typically packed with guests, the Phoenix Zoo now lies empty as the Coronavirus forced it to close (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Typically packed with guests, the Phoenix Zoo now lies empty as the Coronavirus forced it to close (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

“We definitely need donations - we need help, we need people to renew memberships or head to our website, make a donation so we can keep these animals healthy and fed and happy and the staff here caring for them until we reopen,” said Hardwick.

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Zoos across the U.S. are taking a similar approach. The North Carolina, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Houston zoos are hosting daily Facebook live videos so fans can still enjoy the animals.

“I love social media and technology because it really is bringing us all together in a really good positive way,” said Hardwick.