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January 17, 2021

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Zoos offer ‘adoptions’ to lock in extra cash

ANIMALS still have to eat, even if zoos aren’t allowed to welcome visitors right now. To make ends meet, some have set up programs where people can sponsor their favorite animal. While the popular ones have been snapped up, the less-obvious animals get love too.

Anyone looking for a gift that won’t be forgotten anytime soon should try a fat sand rat — or splurge on a reindeer.

Germany’s Hanover Zoo is offering the mammals for adoption for prices as low as 15 euros (US$18). A black-and white spotted domino cockroach costs just 10 euros, while a stately reindeer is 50 euros.

The zoo has introduced the adoptions — enabling interested visitors to become godparents to animals — as a way to connect with people despite the enforced closures under the current health regulations.

“Demand is rising right now, which we’re really very thankful for,” says Julia Zwehl, who manages the zoo’s sponsorship program.

Anyone who spends at least 300 euros adopting an animal becomes a sponsor of the zoo. Some 190 of the animals who fall into this category, from polar bears to elephants, have already been adopted, with takers including political parties and sports stars.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted a Humboldt penguin during her visit to the Ozeanum sea zoo in Stralsund in 2011, for example, while footballer Per Mertesacker adopted a giraffe in 2013. Half the sponsors are companies, however.

Germany has some 600 to 800 zoos, and all have been closed for months due to the pandemic. Many are struggling financially, as animals need to be fed and cared for whether or not visitors are coming in.

Now, roughly half the zoos have set up adoption and sponsoring programs, says Germany’s Association of Zoological Gardens (VdZ).

However, it is not yet clear how much money the programs are generating, says Sebastian Scholze, spokesman for the VdZ.

He points out that the programs and all the organization associated with setting up sponsorship means a lot of additional work as well.

However, visitors have been eager to make donations during the pandemic, and this trend is increasing, according to Scholze.

The best news for a zoo is when a famous person becomes a sponsor. German television host and entertainer Thomas Gottschalk decided to sponsor a coati called Thommy at Karlsruhe Zoo last October.

The coati, a furry animal native to South America, uses its long, flexible nose to search for food — and perhaps Gottschalk, who featured in a film about a detective — felt this would be fitting.

Meanwhile, politician Renate Kuenast has adopted a great bustard at Berlin’s zoo and is supporting a program to resettle the birds in the nearby state of Brandenburg.

In Hanover, penguins and meerkats are the most popular animals for adoption — and at Bremerhaven’s Zoo am Meer, which offers sponsorships starting from 50 euros, penguins are also the most popular. But even less obvious creatures find sponsors too.

One visitor adopted the maribu, seen as the least attractive bird in Africa, says Zwehl. Visitors come out with the funniest comments, she says, quoting one who said: “A skunk is just right for my husband!”

Hanover Zoo had 1 million visitors in 2019 and was hoping for even more in 2020, thanks to its first baby polar bear. However, the spring-time closure that lasted 40 days put paid to that.

The zoo shut again in early November as the government sought to contain a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Zoo spokeswoman Yvonne Riedelt says that in 2020, the zoo only had about 654,000 visitors. “We missed the school groups in particular.”

Zoos worldwide face similar struggles. In Wales, animal lovers can adopt Sumatran tigers, snow leopards, red-faced spider monkeys or Amazonian parrots at the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay, North Wales.

“We have been very lucky, and a lot of our supporters have been adopting animals to help support the zoo during these difficult times,” marketing manager Marcia Azevedo Moreira said.

The most popular have been the snow leopards, red pandas and Humboldt penguins, she said.

That money helps fund the animals’ annual intake: 14.8 tons of fish, 8.5 tons of meat, 1.3 million mealworms, 36,135 bananas, 16,060 oranges, 12,045 carrots, 9,875 boiled potatoes, 19,270 apples, 7,227 lettuces, 8,760 eggs, 2,920 sweet potatoes and 2,190 bunches of grapes.

The situation is no different in Australia.

“Crikey! Here at Australia Zoo we are flat out like a lizard drinking caring for over 1,200 gorgeous animals!” says the Queensland-based zoo. “We need your help!”

It saw animal adoptions increase with the drought and bush fires that ravaged Australia at the start of 2020 — and last through the months of the pandemic, public relations coordinator Dhwani Chandra said.

“We are greatly appreciative of supporters from around the world who have tried to support us and our animal family through these challenges,” she says, citing the closure of borders to international tourists.


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