As birth announcements go, this one was pretty exciting. On Sunday, May 19, an online audience who’d been glued to Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo’s website learned via Twitter that Kapuki, a rare Eastern Black Rhino, had given birth to a male calf. Kapuki’s 15-month pregnancy garnered its own hashtag of #RhinoWatch and a rapt fan following. Lincoln Park Zoo, along with other zoos and nature areas around the world, are giving the public up-close and behind-the-scenes insight into animals’ lives. And eager wildlife lovers are tuning in.
Several live cams on California’s Catalina Island have had a fan following for years. These cameras stream live footage from eagles’ nests from the moment eggs are laid to when eaglets take their first flight. In Africa, myriad cameras let viewers immerse in the Savanna. And the website Explore takes watchers from remote wilds to underwater Meccas.
These cameras aren’t only for the public’s benefit. Sean Putney, senior director of zoo operations at Kansas City Zoo tells Parentology they use video footage to benefit the animals by gaining insight into their needs. “We used giraffe cameras to monitor their pregnancies, hornbill cameras to tell us how much care the parents were giving their chicks and other cameras to denote interactions between animals.”
Not all footage goes public. As with Kapuki, zoos want to give their animals privacy. The Kansas City Zoo’s approach, per Putney, “We tend to be very conservative with what we put out for guests to view. We may have a camera in place for periods of time well before we actually make it available for the public. We tend to weigh the positives and negatives a great deal before making the video available.”
Another benefit of zoo cams is after-hours access. What animals do once zoogoers go home — from feeding time to sleeping — is relayed via live cams. Putney says, “Being able to watch the animals over a span of time can help reveal more about them.”
Wildlife cameras can also drive awareness. Such is the case with the Griffith Park Trail camera in Los Angeles. Not only does it show the public the animals they’re sharing space with, but it helps in the quest to protect California mountain lions, several of which have been killed trying to cross freeways to reach different areas of their habitat.
Putney’s insight, “…trying to get our message across via multiple formats will only increase the likelihood that kids will enjoy learning about wildlife.” definitely applies here.
As for #RhinoWatch, it’s still going strong, sharing updates via Lincoln Park Zoo’s social media platforms. Yes, the calf’s first poop made its debut.