Wild online: why digital conservation education matters today

Wild online: why digital conservation matters today

Learn about how wildlife and conservation efforts benefit from a digital platform with Courtney Dunn

Glose-up of a gorilla hand with a Toronto Zoo volunteer in the corner giving an expert talk, straight from the Zoolife.tv livestream of the Toronto Zoo gorilla habitat.
A snapshot from a talk by one of the Toronto Zoo volunteers, using camera controls to zoom in on the Gorillas hands as she shares relevant information

Why do digital platforms matter?

In today’s world of conservation and wildlife, communication is extremely important in digital platforms. Whether it’s for fundraising, connection or education, social media and streaming platforms have taken center stage. They help audiences connect with endangered animals in ways nobody had expected before. Most importantly, accessibility to education of subjects such as wildlife conservation and zoology has become much more common with these platforms. They provide a cost-friendly and convenient way to connect with professionals and wildlife with ease.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become critical in promoting awareness campaigns. They bring attention to critical conservation issues such as species endangerment. The Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research states even zoological and conservation organizations use social media to announce events. They announce births and hatchings, as well as promote subjects such as biology, zoology and ecology with education in mind. Both individuals and organizations strive to connect audiences with conservation efforts and education. They use digital platforms to strengthen their subjects and to engage with their audiences in new interactive mediums.

How one zoologist used digital platforms for better

Courtney Dunn first got their start in zoology at an internship at the Memphis Zoo. Before working at other institutions like the Dallas Zoo and the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. And, now working as the Product Operations Manager at Zoolife.tv and wildlife educator under the pseudonym, “Dr. Wildlife.” With a following of over 26,000 people on Twitter and 2,500 followers on Twitch, Dr. Wildlife has spent the past 5 years educating their audience on wildlife topics and conservation efforts using digital platforms to connect with audiences far and wide. Their topics range from glimpses into the world of big cats, to legal issues present in endangered species protection. Don’t forget about fun facts about rare animals!

One key goal Dr. Wildlife has in mind while engaging with their audience is maintaining a balance of education and entertainment in a meaningful and unique manner. “People really like good photos and videos, people like to see things in action…” They said, “Plenty of accounts on Twitter share the videos and photos, but don’t provide the education aspect! These animals not only look amazing, they DO amazing things!”

Dr. Wildlife’s topics have been developed to make sure nothing is overcomplicated or inaccessible to those outside of the science community: digestible content is key. “I don’t believe traditional science communications – such as lectures or classes – are meeting the bar anymore,” Dr. Wildlife explained. “We wouldn’t have all the problems we have in the world today if [wildlife and conservation] education was made more accessible.” 

The streams on Twitch consist of a weekly zoology class taught completely for free, lifted up from the curriculum they taught at the University of Central Arkansas and University of Texas at Arlington. For social media, Dr. Wildlife leans on resharing content they find from fellow wildlife enthusiasts or institutions. “I look into researching the animals and finding fun facts about them before releasing that batch of posts over them,” Dr. Wildlife said. “I like to provide people with a continuous stream of what we have in our community.” 

One of the most important aspects of digital platforms is the accessibility they give to lesser engaged audiences of the science community, something Dr. Wildlife has played into. “The kind of audiences that get left out by the science community are those who aren’t engaged to something like the Discovery Channel or the big science conferences,” they explained. “So, I started looking into niche fandoms like sci-fi and furries that have interest in wildlife and science! I taught a zoology class from start to finish in my Dr. Wildlife costume and it got a lot of attention for being so different… I got to share my day-to-day zookeeper snapshots with a new crowd.” 

An educational talk on Zoolife.tv, an example of using new digital formats to spread awareness about wildlife conservation in an interactive manner

How Zoolife.tv works for digital conservation

For Dr. Wildlife, promoting wildlife education and conservation awareness at panels like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conference or Furnal Equinox comes not only from the social media platforms they’ve embraced, but Zoolife.tv, the world’s first virtual zoo. “It’s a big part of my presentations now: people love to see animals in action,” Dr. Wildlife explained. “Tuning in to the leopard cams is so useful to talk about their behavior than showing them a documentary because Zoolife is live and unfiltered. As Zoolife adds a wider range of species types like reptiles, it gives me a wider range of topics to talk about!”

For zoologists and digital streamers like Dr. Wildlife, Zoolife provides them with a never-before-seen glimpse into wildlife’s lives. With the help of animal conservations, their audiences have a chance to support conservation by purchasing passes. Zoolife’s wildlife conservation partnerships are also rooted in finding the most effective and ethical wildlife institution. This guarantees that the habitats we show help promote genuine conservation and give back to the animals.

Each habitat has a zookeeper talk hosted for them weekly. They have a live and interactive chat with viewers. Zookeeperscan answer questions, tell stories and educate their audience on their favorite animals. Some habitats also feature a feeding time spotlight. Viewers can get a firsthand look at how each animal is fed at their zoo or sanctuary.

As a virtual zoo that values conservation and engagement, we strive to include as many resources as we can for both education and entertainment. With over 25 habitats and dozens of zookeeper talks hosted weekly, viewers and educators alike will find something to enjoy on Zoolife.tv. To learn more about what we offer and catch a glimpse of the unfiltered and uncurated world of wildlife, visit Zoolife.tv!

As Dr. Wildlife explained, “Finding a good balance between entertainment and education helps make science a lot more engaging AND accessible.” Science doesn’t have to be complicated to inspire people!”

Watch together, grow together

Watch together, grow together

How Zoolife lets anyone connect with, delight in, and protect the world’s wildlife.

A map of all the virtual zoo animal habitats featured on Zoolife.tv.
Connect with your favorite wildlife anytime, anywhere at Zoolife.tv

Where the connection with wildlife began

In the light of a worldwide pandemic that has left millions of people disconnected and alone at home, streaming platforms have sought ways to bring others together while providing ways to reestablish core parts of our everyday lives: mental health, nature, sociability. Zoolife saw an opportunity to house the connection with wildlife and humans that had not only suffered with many zoos’ closure, but had been limited by factors that were present long before the pandemic: distance, cost and accessibility. Zoolife’s mission was to expand access to deeper connections with wildlife and to reconnect with nature and mental health – core values that were lost with at-home isolation. 

Streaming services experienced a critical boost in viewership and engagement during the pandemic with the total number of subscriptions surpassing 1 billion across dozens of services by the first half of 2020. During this time, Zoolife’s team saw an opportunity to redefine the streaming experience, especially for wildlife, to make it not only more empathetic for the animals but emphasize sharing and connection with fellow wildlife lovers. This experiment started on Twitch, where the concept of crowd-controlled livestreams had already become popular with series such as “Twitch Plays Pokemon.” Zoolife and Toronto Zoo partnered to stream the baby giraffe, Amani, for everyone around the world to watch and connect with her as she grew up. It was here that the prototype of Zoolife was built, where the cameras are controlled entirely by the crowd and zookeepers interacted live with their virtual audience to answer questions. Most importantly, viewers were given a chance to subscribe to the livestream, donate to the zoo and have a front row seat to an unfiltered and unforgettable glimpse into Amani’s world like no one had ever seen.

Zoolife’s first prototype streaming Amani the giraffe on Twitch

And where the connection with wildlife has gone

With popularity booming on Twitch, Zoolife decided to expand its concept beyond the Giraffe Camera and partnered with the Toronto Zoo to bring more habitats to its audience. On April 22, 2021 — Earth Day — we launched the world’s first interactive and virtual wildlife stream with the intention of expanding access to wildlife and supporting conservation efforts on a scale it hadn’t before. Building our own platform allowed us to create  a more personalized user experience with interactivity scaled to improve the connection between audience and wildlife! 

One of the key differentiators of Zoolife is its ability to stimulate a real and unfiltered connection between its users and the streamed animals. The ability to control the cameras to zoom all the way to the giraffe’s eyelashes, and to move the camera to follow the gorillas as they run around their habitat, enabled our users to observe real time and uncurated animal behaviors. In addition, adding animal cards on each habitat with the animals names and behaviors, as well as having live talks by the zookeepers and volunteers who attend to those specific animals, established a more authentic and emotional connection with the animals than any other streaming platform. 

What sets Zoolife apart is the focus on building a meaningful connection and supporting conservation, each feature has been purposefully designed with the intention of promoting access to wildlife and conservation efforts. Each live talk is meant to spread awareness about why and how to support conservation. Even the cameras themselves have been located to provide a real-time glimpse into each habitat, where users entirely control the content they are watching without any curation or filter, providing the closest angle to watch animals’ behavior that they won’t find anywhere else. Ever wonder what gorillas do when no one’s looking? Zoolife’s cameras will show you!

Watching the gorillas on Zoolife’s streaming platform, with much smoother controls compared to the first prototype

And where will this connection go?

With a focus on providing its audience a meaningful connection with wildlife, Zoolife has only grown and continues with its conservation and connection mission first – our ambition has always been to be the #1 online destination to connect with and protect the world’s wildlife. Today, Zoolife features over 25 animals with thousands of hours spent every month watching them by viewers who have helped conservation efforts led by our partners grow tremendously, both these numbers continue to grow as Zoolife continues to add more habitats and value for each subscriber. 

Not only that, but we have expanded what our audience to include: teachers have resources to help their class learn more about animal behaviors, senior homes have streams to engage their residents and provide a new emotional connection, and every wildlife lover has a new way to unwind and relax from everyday’s stress with their favorite animals on screen! 

We value being a force for good. 50% of every dollar goes to wildlife care and conservation efforts led by our partners, be it their alligators, condors or tigers! Viewers can make a meaningful impact on their favorite habitats, zoos or animals just by streaming, a feature unique to Zoolife. Together, we are building a future where we share a deeper connection to wildlife every day.

To be part of this exciting connection, check out Zoolife.tv and learn more about the journey ahead!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

The Leopard who stalks alone

The Leopard who stalks alone

Trekking through the snow blanketed forests of the Russian Far East is a cat few have heard of. Its long winter coat, featuring widely spaced rosettes, provides plenty of protection from the sub-zero temperatures of its home. In a cruel irony, this source of protection may ultimately be its downfall. With a wild population of fewer than 100 individuals, this magnificent animal is being hunted to the brink of extinction for its coat. 

This is the plight of the Amur leopard. 

Amur leopard from the Santa Barbara zoo staring into a Zoolife camera.
Amur leopard at the Santa Barbara Zoo looking directly into the camera. Taken on Zoolife.tv.

The dangers of the Amur Leopard

An Amur leopard’s large paws work like snowshoes, letting the cat walk on snow without sinking. People usually think of leopards in the savannas of Africa or the humid jungles of Asia. But, in the Russian Far East and northeastern China, the Amur leopard has adapted perfectly to life in temperate forests. They regularly have an average temperature of only 1.5ºC. The one thing they have not been able to adapt against, however, is humans. Between 1970 and 1983, over 80% of the Amur leopard’s habitat was lost. This happened due to a mixture of agricultural land conversion, logging, and forest fires. Siberian roe deer and Sika deer, for which the Amur leopards depend upon for food, became even more scarce as habitat decreased further. 

With prey scarcity increasing, conflict is not unusual between Amur leopards and Amur tigers who share most of the same habitat range. 

As agriculture increased in these areas, so did the threat of poaching. Village growth led to the forest becoming more accessible, substantially growing the threat; not just for the leopards but all their scarce prey as well. In absence of wild prey, the leopards often venture into farms in search of food. Owners of these farms are quick to protect by eliminating leopards attacking any part of their livestock. 

Ongoing development programs, such as gas pipeline plans, expanding road networks, and coal extraction are further reducing and degrading available Amur leopard habitat. Coupled with the overharvesting of timber and illegal logging, human-induced forest fires present a significant threat to what remains. Satellite monitoring indicates that approximately 50% of Southwest Primorye, a portion of the Amur leopard’s habitat, burns at least once every 10 years. 

Deforestation and chopped down trees in an Amur Leopard habitat.

But is it too late?

All is not lost, however. Even now, large tracts of forest – which are ideal leopard habitats – still exist. The Land of The Leopard National Park was established on 280 thousand hectares of taiga in 2012. This marks a significant effort to begin saving the world’s rarest cat. Numbers are now increasing from fifteen years ago when just 30 remained. Conservation organizations are hopeful this upward trend will stick with intensive conservation measures. The news of 90 Amur leopards spotted along the borders of Russia and China was a victory in 2019. 

“With the establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park, in conjunction with other conservation efforts, we can now start to focus on how to begin bringing them back.” — Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, Managing Director of Species Conservation, WWF. 

Alongside on the ground conservation efforts, zoos are making a lead in bringing this species back from the brink. A reintroduction program approved by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources will introduce breeding pairs of Amur leopards from European zoos to a reserve in the southeastern tip of the country. It is hoped this reintroduction will help the wild population increase in the next 20 years. 

Amur leopards at the zoo

While not all zoos are able to contribute to the leopard’s population growth in this manner, there is still plenty else for them to do. The Santa Barbara Zoo, home to three Amur leopards, is just one of several AZA-accredited facilities passionately working to introduce more of the public to this amazing species. 

Baby Marta follows her mother across their home at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Ajax, her mother, is the most genetically valuable female Amur leopard in North America. 

Marta, a cub born at Santa Barbara Zoo in August 2021, may not realize it but she is one of the leading ambassadors of her species in the world. Hundreds of viewers from around the world watch her antics daily on Zoolife; who quickly become inspired to care and learn more. While Marta gets them onto Zoolife, daily talks given by passionate zookeepers hook them into learning more. It is in this manner that new conservation heroes are born. 

Marta, the baby leopard, as seen on Zoolife.tv

What can I do to help the Amur Leopards?

Besides directly supporting zoos through platforms like Zoolife or in person visits, there are other ways for people to help in their everyday lives. In today’s world, much of the wood we use comes from forests around the world. This includes the materials we use to build our homes, furniture we buy, and the paper we use. You can help forest-dwelling animals, like the Amur leopard. Choose lumber and paper products made using sustainable practices. 

Although Amur leopards stalk alone, they don’t have to be alone in this fight against extinction. All of us, including you dear reader, have the opportunity to make a difference. Think of what impact you wish to have upon this world and what you will leave for future generations. 

Want to see an Amur leopard from the comfort of your own home? 

Visit Zoolife.tv today to see Ajax and Marta as they go about their lives at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Digitalization of Zoos

Digitalization of Zoos

Digitalization is the path that all businesses have been on for decades. The recent past has only sped up the momentum towards this inevitable digital transformation. Businesses that are reluctant to digitalize or choosing to avoid it are only adding unnecessary pressure to themselves. 

Close up if a tiger at the Toronto Zoo with it's mouth wide open.

Zoological institutions are not exempt from the movement towards digitalization. They will need to discover methods of being able to engage the consumer in increasingly inventive ways that keep a visitor attracted. Even if they are not physically present on the site. To borrow the sentiment of Karin Falquist, a professor at Umeå University in Sweden, and apply it to zoos generically, “The idea behind a virtual zoo is to share information and create and retain relations with future, current and past visitors. One of the goals for a digital zoo project is to enhance the visitor’s experience of the zoo, making the zoo experience something more than just a visit to the actual park.”

In addition to this, research based upon visitor surveys is finding that a significant portion of the estimated 700 million people who visit zoos globally choose not to return beyond a single visit. These customers are revealing barriers that severely limit their ability to support zoos. This is one of the reasons digitalization of zoos have become more popular.

It can be a financial burden to visit a zoo with a family. Additionally, it can be a geographic burden, if visitors do not live close to a zoo. Furthermore, it can be a lifestyle burden because visitors may not want to be in a space occupied by many others.

Physically going to the zoo

So what is it that convinces this cohort to physically attend a zoo even though it can be a burden in their life? Being in the presence of exotic animals can be a once in a lifetime opportunity! This means, to the average consumer, it is worth the burden to experience it once. Beyond that once in a lifetime experience, the consumer will deprioritize a return visit for reasons previously described. A zoo needs to add enough significant once in a lifetime opportunities to encourage this visitor cohort to return. Are zoos willing to continuously get new animals, no, but they are constantly creating new events and experiences in the hope of capturing the curiosity of visitors old and new. Is it working?

Zoos are continuously searching for methods to re-engage these visitors. This is an issue that is shared with the entire attractions industry, including museums. Both zoos and museums are committed to getting visitors to adopt new or maintain current behaviors. These will have long-lasting positive effects in their areas of focus, while also balancing an important need for economic support. There are numerous studies on how technology can impact the museum industry. Furthermore, they are consistently finding technology to be an economic and educational advantage. Although, the studies are sparse for zoos; the museum and zoo industries are parallel. And, it can be assumed that the research findings are as well. 

Digitalization of zoos is a solution. When zoos can exist online, they are increasing their accessibility to the enormous audience in waiting. A zoos online presence is not meant to replace the once in a lifetime opportunity, it is better positioned as the “rest of a lifetime opportunity”. 

Man takes a digital picture of parrots at the zoo.
The difference between an in-person visit and digital visit to the zoo has become harder to identify.

Advantages of digitalization

The advantage to this approach is that if a consumer has already been to a zoo. The online presence is able to build upon their experience. However, if a consumer has not been to a zoo yet, the online presence will encourage them to visit. This is the advantage of digitalization! According to research from the University of Kansas, “This reach and technology can really personalize the experience and allow a visitor, whether virtual or real, to be engaged in something that may be five continents away. It is an exciting new way to explore how people can access wildlife around their country and around their world.” 

The most popular methods utilized by zoos to digitally reach visitors, in order of popularity, are websites, social media, on-demand virtual experiences, and live zoo cameras. 

More about zoos

Almost 100% of zoos worldwide have websites and social media. Animal related content has been one of the most popular choices of the global community since the dawn of the digital age. With the popularity of these digital assets, the market is flooded and it takes quite a lot of resources to stand out.  

Roughly 38% of zoos take advantage of on-demand virtual experiences, with a sharp increase observed ever since early 2020. Many innovative zoos have added these experiences to their traditional roster of programs. They are a great way to share important messages with large audiences (classrooms, conferences, etc.) without affecting physical capacity limits. The drawback is that the additional resources (extra staff, tech, etc.) make these experiences expensive to produce. Zoos may not be ready to replace in person programming with virtual programming. Therefore, virtual experiences are currently an added cost as opposed to a long-term investment. Time will tell whether on-demand virtual experiences are able to generate enough revenue to give a proper return on investment. 

Lastly, only about 29% of zoos offer livestream cameras. Live zoo cameras have been used by these zoos to increase their engagement beyond their physical perimeter. In an interview with a representative from a Zoo in the United Kingdom, “webcams have allowed guests to really get involved with the animals and the zoo itself and with a 65% propensity to visit following viewing of the live action cameras, the marketing value speaks for itself”. 

Virtual zoos

Some virtual zoos include a call to action on the same page that the animal livestream is located. In an article written by Camstreamer, “the animals become stars, helping zoos in turn to broaden their missions and gain the funds to carry them out. This is done either in the form of online donations, adoption of an animal, or via merchandising linked to the zoo’s chosen animal hero.” 

There has not been any research completed that evaluates the effectiveness of this strategy. The understanding of why so few zoos have taken advantage of livestreaming may be rooted in this lack of knowledge. 

Without any facts to demonstrate potential return on investment, zoos may be unwilling to take the chance. Those that do are mitigating potential risk. Animal livestream cameras and the services required to broadcast them are both costs to a virtual zoo, therefore the budget for them is usually minimized. This translates to lowered quality of video and a lack of capability (static position, low frame rate, lack of zoom or low-light enhancement, etc.). 

Platforms like Zoolife.tv are diligently working to remove this risk barrier. Increasing digitialization of zoos by fast-track accessibility for zoos to high-quality camera technology. They offer users a chance to connect with wildlife using controllable cameras. These cameras have 20x zoom that allows viewers to take photos and clips of their favorite wildlife in high definition. The streaming platforms also hosts educational and informational zookeeper talks. This way, their audience can learn more about wildlife while contributing 50% of its revenue to its partners conservation efforts.

Technological advancements

To gain an advantage concerning the transformation from analogue to digital services, new innovative user experience formats have to be improved continuously with technological support,” states Karin Falquist. Zoos that are innovating are realizing that digitalization is a necessary step that will eventually need to be taken. 

It is still early on in the adoption of technological advancements that can allow for zoos to be supported by the massive community that is willing to do so remotely. It will be through these ever-adapting technologies that zoos will find their place in the digitalized market.

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

Jump into a world of wildlife with Zoolife!

Jump into a world of wildlife with Zoolife!

This is your stop to find all you need to know about Zoolife’s breaking news, upcoming projects and exciting updates! 

On Zoolife, users can control the camera to get this close to the giraffe’s eyelashes!

What is Zoolife?

It is the world’s first live and interactive virtual zoo, streaming live from the world’s top accredited zoos, sanctuaries, and rehabilitation centers. Each stream is designed to bring viewers closer to wildlife because of it’s innovative ways of learning, protecting and engaging with the animals, from the comfort of one’s home.

Zoolife’s state-of-the-art technology allows users to control the camera from their device, zoom into a tiger’s whiskers with 20x optical zoom, or move the camera around to explore a gorilla’s habitat. Viewers can also capture their own clips or pictures of their favorite animals and share with other audience members or even zookeepers.

Streamed live 24/7, Zoolife features a growing collection of remarkable animal species, daily keeper talks, and interactive Q&As with animal experts for in-depth learning and more. Additionally, 50% of all passes purchased directly fund animal care and conservation efforts led by our partners.

Zoolife’s mission is to expand access to a deeper connection with wildlife.

Zoolife users can watch a flamingo preens itself, while attending a live Q&A session with the zookeeper

How was Zoolife founded?

Both founded and based in Canada, Zoolife was born from its parent company: Brizi. They came up with an innovative way to control cameras for game-changing selfies and snapshots at sport events. As a result, the same cameras are also set up in stadiums all around the world. This helps viewers share their sporting experiences now connect wildlife and humans in the world’s first digital zoo.

Zoolife reached out to the Toronto Zoo at the start of the pandemic to help connect its audience through a virtual setting and offered a way to help their viewers stream their exhibits while maintaining social distancing. The service started off with a livestream of the Toronto Zoo’s giraffe habitat. It was originally hosted on Twitch before it expanded into more habitats and wildlife to the catalog Zoolife boasts today.

Today, the service has expanded to its own website and has partnered with two zoos, a wildlife park and two rescues: Toronto Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Orana Wildlife Park, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and the Phoenix Herpetological Society. Additionally, Zoolife now hosts 22 exhibits and daily zookeeper talks and plans to expand to even more exhibits and partners in the future!

A video clip of the hippo showing its big jaw taken by a Zoolife user, from home!

What is Zoolife’s blog?

At Zoolife’s blog, you’ll find all kinds of content, like learning how to connect meaningfully with wildlife. You’ll also learn about raising awareness about conservation and animal care projects around the world. Finally, you can also read about fun and educational facts about animals!

Where else can I follow Zoolife?

You can find Zoolife on Facebook, on Instagram, or check out our Twitter.

Check out our YouTube for zookeeper and wildlife highlights.

Read more Zoolife blog posts, and news articles!

Watch these animals live on Zoolife.tv!

For any inquiries or questions, email us at info@zoolife.tv