#ClosedButStillCaring — that is the hashtag the Toronto Zoo has been using on social media, as the site is finding ways to adapt in the thick of the COVID-19 crisis.
The zoo has been closed to the public since Mar. 14, and remains closed as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Even though the Toronto Zoo is closed to visitors, staff are still working to take care of the about 5,000 animals living on site.
Toronto Zoo CEO Dolf DeJong says that staff are making adjustments to hold up social distancing standards and to do their part in decreasing the spread of COVID-19. Keeping staff in small groups, constant hand washing, and keeping physical distance between people is all key to the strategy.
“What’s really changed a lot is how our team is planning and operating to make sure we’re doing our part to flatten the curve,” DeJong says. “So, it starts with the obvious pieces, the pieces we hear a lot about. Social distancing, hygiene in the site, washing hands, making sure we’re in small groups at all times.”
“But also really subtle things that you wouldn’t notice.”
DeJong says that these more “subtle” changes include changes to scheduling and staff rotations, all designed to keep physical contact between workers as minimal as possible.
While staff are finding ways to adapt and find a new normal, DeJong says that the animals are doing well during the crisis and are continuing to receive care, enrichment, and psychological stimulation.
“From the animal’s point of view, not a lot has changed,” DeJong says. “They are not seeing guests, so some of them are a little more interested when people come by. But as far as the care the animals receive, that hasn’t changed.”
Even though its doors are closed to the public, DeJong says that the Toronto Zoo is trying to find new ways to connect to the public. Just like many organizations, the zoo is using social media and virtual platforms to stay connected to guests. One way is through live streams, which show keepers taking care of and interacting with different animals— something DeJong says has multiple benefits.
“People can see the animals are doing well,” DeJong says. “And we can play our role as a community support.”
“A lot of people are at home, they’re not able to go out, and they’re practicing social distancing— which is fantastic,” he says. “So we want to give them a glimpse of the animals, and maybe be a bright spot in their day by giving them a little window into what our keepers are up to.”
Alongside livestreams, the zoo continues to update its social media pages, and DeJong says that they plan on rolling out more virtual content this week.
Despite the uncertainty of the COVID-19 coronavirus, DeJong says that staff remain “upbeat” and are optimistic for the future.
“Our team, they are passionate about what they do. They love the animals in their care, and they’re committed to our mission, which is connecting people, animals, conservation, and science,” DeJong says. “It’s really tough to do that without our guests there. We miss those guests, they’re a huge part of our community.”
The zoo does not have a timeframe of when they may reopen, but are continuing to look to the future and work on upcoming projects. These include upgrades to exhibit entrances and onsite renovations.
Featured image photo credit: Toronto Zoo twitter