1069THEX: Canadian zoos hit hard by the pandemic

(February 16, 2021) – Story by Ryann Scheib.

Known as the place for families to gather, discover new animals, and have fun – you can imagine that Canada’s zoos, aquariums, and aviaries have been hit hard by the pandemic.

The pause in visitors has brought a new-found difficulty in feeding the thousands of animals. The Toronto Zoo normally funds the $1 million annual cost of food with paid guest parking. The Zoo is asking for donations through Zoo Food for Life, which already raised enough to feed the animals from April to December 2020.

Aside from feeding the animals, Dolf DeJong, CEO of the Toronto Zoo says his team misses connecting the visitors with animals the most.

“Our mission is connecting people, animals, and conservation science to fight extinction. And it’s harder to do that when you can’t host any people.”

The most important part of zoos are the animals; how are they reacting to the pause in visitors?

A Silver Lining

With the pause in time, zoos have had to reinvent their season online and have been able to complete renovations they otherwise wouldn’t have had time for.

The Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls is currently offering virtual field trips to allow children to continue exploring the aviaries and learn about the birds.

“They’re about a half hour program and they’re suitable for all ages,” Hayley Humphries, Animal Care Supervisor says. “We’ve had a lot of parents gift it to their children’s classes, so that’s really nice.”

The Toronto Zoo runs Facebook livestreams everyday at 1pm to keep folks updated on the animals. As well as educational online programming classes and constant live cams on animals.

With the closures bringing more time on their hands, Humphries says they have been able to do a large renovation to the Bird Kingdom’s small bird aviary.

“Normally, we wouldn’t be able to shut down this area and make it unaccessible to the public,” she says. “But not only that, we were able to remove the birds. So that was a plus side.”

Stuart Jansen / Unsplash

DeJong says people can look forward to new projects coming to the Toronto Zoo with a new orangutan habitat currently under construction.

“We’re really excited about those incredible animals able to get outside this summer. It’s set up so they’ll actually be up in the trees and able to engage in more natural behaviours, and give you perspectives that you’ve never had before.”

Support when it’s safe to do so

The Toronto Zoo, Bird Kingdom, and 27 other members across Canada are part of Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA). Jim Facette, CEO and Executive Director of CAZA strongly encourages people to continue showing support through social media and virtual events until in-person interactions can happen again safely.

“When the opportunity comes to visit, do so,” Facette says. “Lots of people talk about their mental health and how they’re coping with a time when we’re all being forced to stay home. And it actually does matter, spending some time there, relaxing, walking through even if you have to wear a mask. Just being around the animals outside is part of a relaxing and very nice experience.”

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