Zoos face tough task post-Covid
Many turn to virtual tours and Facebook Live to help make ends meet
Attapon Srihayrun, the newly appointed director of the Zoological Park Organisation of Thailand (ZPO), has pledged to bring back visitors to the animal attractions after a difficult period.
"I admit that it will be a challenge to get zoos back on track in the post Covid-19 era. I will do everything I can to create a zoo experience that is informative and safe for visitors,'' he told the Bangkok Post.
Mr Attapon, 54, said zoos have been affected by the pandemic for two years now and many have been closed for some time.
Even if now they are allowed to reopen, many can't draw as many people as before because visitors fear Covid-19.
According to a ZPO report, the number of visitors to zoos nationwide zoos dropped to 1.8 million last year, compared with six million visitors a year on average before that.
Mr Attapon said zoos are no different from other businesses that must adapt to survive, as government subsidies alone do not make up income shortfalls. The ZPO needs around 800 million baht more a year to run its activities.
Mr Attapon said the ZPO gets about 400 million baht a year from the government's budget, but during the outbreak, it was unable to depend on entrance fees for revenue, so looked for ways to save money.
"We have to cut expenditure, but not for animal food or medical treatment,'' he said.
The ZPO has provided virtual zoo field trips so people can see animals they like any time via the on-line system. The aim is to help enhance relations between people and their favourite animals and zoos, he said.
He said one of the virtual zoo attractions is a Facebook Live feed so people can see how their favourite animals live and spend their life.
For example, Khao Khiew zoo Chon Buri's Si Racha district is organising a virtual zoo for people who want to visit its top attraction, a young hippo called Moo Toon. There are over 70,000 followers on its page, he said.
"Now, the ZPO is now preparing to welcome many more foreign visitors after the country starts opening to receive foreign tourists. Preparations have included zoo scenery and landscape improvements and measures to curb the spread of Covid-19,'' he said.
As everyone knows, the ZPO was in hot water after a couple of albino barking deer wwnt missing from the Songkhla Zoo last year. Investigations found the case was tied to an illegal wildlife trading network in the zoo. The ZPO's board ordered it to impose measures to prevent a recurrence of the problem.
Mr Attapon said the ZPO is now more transparent as a result, and has developed a dashboard to check the number of caged animals in its care in real time.
All zoos are required to report their wildlife populations via the online portal, including deaths and births, he said.
"Our work will now put more focus on sharing our expertise on supporting wildlife in the forest, which we have done well for many years. But the public knows less about that. Academic development must be improved," Mr Attapon, a political science post graduate from Ramkhamhaeng University, said.
The ZPO's vet team has managed to boost the Thai crane population which is now no longer considered extinct, after 50 cranes were discharged back into their natural habitat.
The ZPO is also building a new zoo on a 300-rai site in Pathum Thani's Thanyaburi district, on land donated by King Rama X. The zoo will replace the now-closed Dusit zoo in Bangkok, he said.
The zoo is in the design stage and expected to be complete by the middle of next year. The 3-billion baht zoo concept is to augment natural flood defences in the area as well as attract visitors.
People living nearby have welcomed the project, he said, after a study from Khao Khiew zoo found surrounding communities saw a boost in income of 600 million baht per year from the one million people visiting the attraction. It is slated for a 2027 opening, he added.