By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Oklahoma City Zoo recently announced it would close temporarily to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). In an effort to remain committed to its conservation education mission, the Zoo is going virtual.
According to a press release, this includes online interactive animal wellness exams, St. Patrick’s Day animal enrichment, engaging at-home conservation projects for families, plus a new digital series in development (details coming soon).
“The decision to temporarily close was not made lightly. We know families, students and educators from across the region have made the OKC Zoo part of their spring break tradition for years, including a record-setting 93,000 people visiting in 2019,” said Dwight Lawson, OKC Zoo executive director and CEO.
“While digital content is no replacement for the in-person, immersive Zoo experience, sharing our behind-the-scenes experiences and allowing fans to engage with the Zoo from home is a way to lessen the impact of the temporary closure.
“Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, director of veterinary services, and her team are continuing their scheduled wellness exams this week,” Lawson added. “These exams will be shared through Facebook Live and, when possible, will allow viewers to submit questions for the Zoo’s veterinarians in real time.”
On Tuesday, March 17, from 10 – 11:30 a.m., Fred the male elk, is scheduled for a wellness exam and hoof trim. Then, on Wednesday, March 19, Cody, a male bobcat, will undergo his wellness exam from 10:15 – 11:30 a.m. Both events will take place at the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital.
Also, on Tuesday, March 17, the Zoo will share special St. Patrick’s Day-themed animal enrichment events throughout the day online. Viewers will be able to see their favorite animals receive festive enrichment items from their caretakers.
These activities will feature items designed to encourage natural behaviors and provide new stimuli for the animals to enjoy. Animals participating in themed enrichment for St. Paddy’s Day include: stingrays, California sea lions, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, lorikeets, Galapagos tortoises, ostriches, bobcat and Asian elephants.
Kids K-12 can get creative for conservation by entering the Zoo’s Pepsi Vending Machine Art Contest, themed RECYCLING: Make It Second Nature. This event challenges students to illustrate creative ideas for promoting recycling and how to raise awareness about how they can help to protect and restore the planet’s natural resources.
Each of the contests two grand prize winners will receive a $300 gift card to a store at OKC Outlets. Their design will also become the cover of a Pepsi machine in the Zoo’s entry plaza for an entire year, which is viewed by an estimated one million Zoo guests.
Winners from all award categories will receive a certificate and have their designs on display at the OKC Zoo and OKC Outlets.
Official entry forms and complete contest details are available online at okczoo.org/pepsicontest. Entries must be postmarked by Friday, April 3.
As part of the Zoo’s Gorillas on the Line Cellphone Challenge, Zoo supporters can donate their old cellphones and small electronics to help save gorillas after the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended.
Recycling old cellphones helps reduce the demand for coltan (also known as Columbite-tantalite), a type of ore that is used in mobile phones to help store electricity.
This action helps to protect gorilla habitats in Africa.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, fewer than 20 percent of unwanted cellphones are recycled each year.
Cell phones and other small electronics can be dropped off for recycling before September 30 in the Zoo’s guest experience office in the entry plaza. As a thank you for donating, the Zoo will provide two admission vouchers valid for one year.
Temporarily closed to the public for the well-being of Zoo guests, team members, ZOOfriends members, volunteers and the animals in the Zoo’s care, “safety is our top priority every day at the OKC Zoo, particularly with the emergence of COVID-19,” the press release stated. “Zoo officials will continue to closely monitor this developing situation and follow guidance from federal, state and local health officials.”
Fans wishing to support the OKC Zoo and help with the significant cost of the temporary closure can pre-purchase tickets online at okczoo.org/tickets or become Oklahoma Zoological Society members at ZOOfriends.org. Tickets are valid for a year from date of purchase.
Any ZOOfriends membership purchased or renewed during March or April will receive two additional months to extend their membership.