Durno June 2020

LongLegs, Safaris; It's at the Zoo

By Doug Durno

It's tough to know where to start. First, the Zoo is being allowed to reopen as a drive-thru. But we'll get into it that deeper later on. So let's start with a birth announcement:

Baby LongLegs has arrived. Born at the Toronto Zoo on May 12. That's born, not hatched so we're not talking about the offspring of Daddy Longlegs, the spider. Rather, it's the long-awaited birth of a new giraffe. And when I say long, gestation was almost 16 months. With a name like Baby LongLegs and after 480 days, you'd expect the newborn to be big. And she is, as tall as an adult human. On the African savanna, this is necessary as newborn giraffes are quite vulnerable to predators so they have to be able to get about on their own immediately. Only about 50% make it past their first year.

To see Baby LongLegs, we'll have to wait for the Zoo to reopen. For now, let's consider how significant her birth is. Significant, you exclaim? Well, mom Mstari is the most genetically important giraffe in North America. She passes on to her kids a more diverse assortment of traits than any other Masai giraffe in captivity. For an endangered species, that's important because changes are always happening in the world – like right now we have climate change and the novel disease COVID-19. The greater genetic diversity a species as a whole has, the greater likelihood that that species will be able to adapt and survive such changes.

Besides Baby LongLegs, there are 5000 other animals at the Zoo to be cared for - and fed. And fed they will be. With no revenue coming in and the Zoo wondering where they might unearth the sizable amount of money needed to feed the animals, they found out just how much public support the Zoo has. Annual food costs run over a million dollars. Normally, parking revenues would cover this part of the Zoo's expenses. But times aren't normal. No one's parking at a closed facility. So the Zoo decided they'd try to fundraise one month's worth of food, or about $100,000. The campaign is called Zoo Food For Life. Within a week, donations totaled $500,000 and are now over $600,000. The fact that 10,000 people donated demonstrates the broad support that the Zoo has throughout the community for its conservation, education and research missions. If you wish to donate, you can do so at https://www.wildlifeconservancy.ca/give

Now finally, let's see how you can experience the Zoo as you've never experienced it before – by car. The 3.4-km drive will take up to an hour. To keep things safe, no one will be able to exit their car. To keep things contactless, bookings and payment will be done online. Ticket purchasers will be sent a commentary for uploading to their mobile devices. If you want to take part in this unique experience, visit the Zoo website to book a time.

As well, while so many of us are locked down at home, the Zoo's providing lots of diversions via social media. Its daily 'Facebook Live' sessions have received widespread notice, attracting about 40,000 viewers a day. Keepers are featuring animals that wouldn't normally receive much coverage. Want more activities? Go to the Zoo's website at www.torontozoo.com/events and you'll find links to their "Wild for Life" podcasts, educational materials, and a livestream of the gorillas. Plus visit the Zoo's YouTube channel and find videos of Baby LongLegs and plenty of other interesting animal videos.

In light of the Malayan tiger that tested positive for Covid-19 at the Bronx Zoo, we should address animal safety as it's thought that a member of that zoo's staff transmitted the disease. Since then, she has been improving daily. As far as the Toronto Zoo, to reduce the chances of any such thing happening there, staff have been taking extra precautions including wearing PPE's (personal protective equipment) and masks, social distancing, and making frequent glove changes.

Finally, a shout-out should go to some of the great volunteers at the Zoo who have organized the production of masks, some of which have already been donated to the Scarborough Health Network. Thanks everyone.