San Diego Zoo: How to 'visit' from home virtually during COVID-19 outbreak

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The San Diego Zoo might be temporarily closed to the public during the coronavirus pandemic, but you can still visit virtually. The California wildlife park has ramped up their e-learning offerings for fans and families to stay engaged during the COVID-19 outbreak.

During this time of crisis, the San Diego Zoo Global remains dedicated as ever to promoting their mission of education and conservation. In conversation with Fox News, Rick Schwartz, a spokesperson and ambassador for San Diego Zoo Global, explained how you can still “visit” the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park while staying safe at home.

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FOX NEWS: When the outbreak of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus was declared a national emergency in mid-March, how did San Diego Zoo Global react?

RICK SCHWARTZ: When the closure happened… all [of a] sudden, things have to close and social distancing is occurring. We were very fortunate, we already have a very robust social media presence. The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have their own Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and a lot of engagement there, a lot of fun videos and stories.

We also do a lot of work with our channel for children's hospitals called San Diego Zoo Kids, constantly creating video content that goes directly to children's hospitals… So when this all happened, when we had to close our doors to the public, we kind of already had a foundation of content to be able to share with the public and our live cameras, too. We are now taking it a step further.

FOX: How can Virtual Mission: Spring Break keep fans and families engaged with the zoo during this temporary closure?

Schwartz: We are organizing our education department, along with our staff, to create sort of virtual tours through our zoo and our safari park to allow audiences to still get a glimpse as to what springtime is like here in San Diego at those bases.

We are working directly with school districts and teachers to make sure that we are offering content that is truly educational and scientific-based about nature, wildlife and animals. As a parent myself, I think anybody who has a child home from school and recognizes this was so sudden and quick, the schools weren't quite prepared for a lot of online content and distance learning. So we're helping to support that with this new program we're doing with our educational tools.

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FOX: How have day-to-day operations at the zoo changed during the COVID-19 crisis?

Schwartz: With the closure and new restraints, protocols for how we must work amongst other humans… has changed a little bit on our approach to how our teams work. But the level of care is still there for animals and our vet staff, our hospital staff, our keepers and wildlife care specialists, our animal behaviorists. Everybody is still there. They're just working differently in the space together now to try to minimize their contact and keep proper distance, when possible, for their own safety, and to follow those protocols.

FOX: In your opinion, have the animals noticed that there aren’t any people visiting the zoo?

Schwartz: I feel as someone who's worked with animals for a very long time, I'm sure they do notice. I'm sure they recognize that something has changed in the sense that there's fewer people in the public spaces. But it doesn't seem to have directly impacted how they carry about their day.

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FOX: How will the e-learning programs help bridge the gap during the temporary closure?

Schwartz: We can't have students come visit us and we can't go into schools like we used to as well… so we are creating online content that will be easily accessible. That is going to include arts and crafts that are based around learning, how perhaps an adaptation works for an animal or learning about habitats. And they're going to be age- and grade-appropriate for the groups that they're going to be set up for.

There will be observation opportunities, too, where there might be videos attached and then to carry it even a step further, if the parents want to do a little something on their own in the downtime that they may have once a child goes to bed.

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FOX: What are some helpful tips for parents who hope to teach their kids at home right now about animals and animal conservation?

Schwartz: If we were not in this current situation that we are as a society, I would say one of the best things you can do is get a small notepad and pencil, and go for a walk even in your neighborhood. There's urban wildlife. A lot of times we're so focused on what we're doing, where we need to go, [that] we don't realize how many different little critters, birds, butterflies, other animals, are fluttering around in our own neighborhood.

The next best step is to find a wild space [if] there's one nearby… Obviously, with our confinement issues that we have now, maybe that's not a realistic thing for you and your family. So the next best thing I would offer, again, take that notebook and pencil, find an animal cam, whether it's San Diego Zoo or any other zoological facility and do observations.

What do you see the animals doing and why do you think they're doing it? And then maybe tune in again the next day at the same time. Are they doing the same things the same time of day or is it something different? So there's different opportunities using technology. You're just getting outside… connecting with wildlife.