Short of rearranging your teddy bears in the garden, going to the zoo has been an impossible feat since the Government closed down public spaces to prevent the spreading of Coronavirus. But fortunately for animal lovers everywhere, Chester Zoo found a way to bring the zoo to us, beaming directly into our living rooms via Facebook Live.
Starting with a visit to its red pandas at 10am on 27 March, Chester’s Virtual Zoo went live with just a smartphone and a keeper, each one presenting a different animal every hour, including a visit to the aquarium. More than 2 million people watched the red pandas have their breakfast on Facebook, fed by keeper Perri, and the first video crashed due to the high level of traffic to the page. Fortunately, red pandas are resilient (if sadly endangered) creatures, and further proved their popularity elsewhere on the Internet when ‘red pandas’ also trended on Twitter, where ‘Chester Zoo’ had been a top ten topic since 6am.
‘We’re not sure whether that has ever happened before so it’s brilliant that we were able to put a major spotlight on such a special, but sadly endangered, species,’ says Will Condliffe, PR manager at Chester Zoo.
It was not just the red pandas. Viewers on Facebook also got the chance to virtually visit the Humboldt penguins and Asian elephants, as well as the butterflies and tigers. All in all, seven videos were created (which can still be seen on YouTube and Chester Zoo’s Facebook) and now have combined viewing figures in excess of 10 million.
‘As soon as we had the idea to take people on a virtual day out to the Zoo, we had a sneaking suspicion it’d be popular - we didn’t quite think it’d go on to break the internet though!’ Condliffe says. ‘Most media outlets in the UK, and indeed lots around the world, latched on to the story, as did various celebrities, politicians, companies, councils and other high profile accounts on social media – the reaction really has been phenomenal.’
Chester Zoo is no stranger to the livestream, but this was the first time the zoo had ever done a full day live. ‘It involved the highly technical approach of having a mobile phone clamped to a pole so that social distancing rules could be maintained from the zookeeper being interviewed,’ explains Condliffe. ‘Although, in future, we may explore using a better quality camera instead of a mobile phone, we do feel that part of its charm was how real, genuine and intimate it feels on mobile. The watching tens of thousands really felt like they were there with each of our brilliant zookeepers and wonderful species featured.’
Indeed, such was the success of the approach, rudimentary though it may seem, the Zoo’s Facebook following increased by nearly half in 24 hours. With more than 800,000 Likes and 900,000 people now following it, the Zoo managed to retain its status as the UK Zoo with the biggest audience. But Condliffe says this was just a fortunate byproduct of what was intended to be an entertaining day for everyone stuck at home.
‘We were able to put smiles back on lots and lots and lots of faces,’ he says. ‘That, and doing a little something to help parents, teachers and children to continue their learning while many are at home, was our main reason for wanting to do it. The number of messages the zoo is receiving to thank us for it has been never ending and so we’re very glad we did.
‘The big question now is, will we be hosting another? Well, such is the demand, I don’t really think we have a choice! Watch this space…’