Hello from the Wild Side: Get closer to keepers, animals as zoo's virtual programme returns

Zoo Explained! will have question-and-answer sessions with Ms Indah, the keeper in charge of the newest baby rhinoceros. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's animal parks are expanding behind-the-scenes offerings amid the pandemic, with a new virtual activity that will feature keepers and their charges.

Zoo Explained! kicks off its Zoom sessions on May 22 with a look at the River Safari's emperor tamarins, a species of small monkeys, and conversations with their keeper Ken Chu, who will share fun facts about their diets and habits.

The new segment opens the second season of Hello from the Wild Side, a package of customised virtual interactions with animals from the Wildlife Reserve Singapore's (WRS) Singapore Zoo and River Safari.

Ms Irene Lin, chief marketing officer of WRS, said the virtual offerings are born of the circuit breaker from April to June last year.

She added: "As our parks were closed, virtual experiences became the only option for us to continue engaging our audiences of all ages and connect people to wildlife in a meaningful way.

"Even when our parks reopened, we were operating at limited capacity. For those who were not yet able to visit us, these virtual sessions provided opportunities to continue to interact with our animal family in the comfort of their homes, or even the office."

The virtual events first opened for public bookings from May to December last year, featuring several activities that will return for Hello from the Wild Side's second season this year.

These include a virtual backstage pass to the Elephants of Asia enclosure, and a live feeding and enrichment session with a great white pelican and capybara, a species of rodent, which are available only for corporate bookings this year.

Members of the public wishing to send a personalised video message to loved ones can get it relayed by a zookeeper alongside a hornbill, capybara, a pair of penguins, or a yellow-naped amazon parrot which can sing a birthday song.

While most children prefer cartoons, Mr Chu, 30, the first zookeeper to be on Zoo Explained!, said he was drawn to animal documentaries since he was young and would watch them for hours on end.

He added: "Through these sessions, I hope people learn to appreciate wildlife and take action to protect them."

He plans to take virtual visitors through his daily tasks that help to keep the emperor tamarins physically and mentally strong.

From May to August, Zoo Explained! will also be rolling out question-and-answer sessions with the keeper in charge of the zoo's newest baby rhinoceros, and with animal trainers behind the Animal Friends Show, which features domesticated animals such as parrots, cats and dogs.

On what differentiates these virtual sessions from in-person visits, Ms Lin said: "This season has been curated to put the spotlight on our animal caregivers and let them give participants a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their day-to-day work. It also focuses on bringing you up close to animals, learning about their quirks and behaviours in a way you may not be able to through a physical visit."

Hello from the Wild Side will remain a part of the Singapore Zoo's offerings for some time, according to Ms Lin.

The zoo is also working on an integrated visiting experience, offering guests virtual interactions before and after their physical trips to the park.

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