Two groups of chimpanzees plunged into loneliness and boredom amid the coronavirus pandemic have found a new way to stay entertained thanks to an idea from concerned staff: daily Zoom calls.
The animals, in the Czech Republic’s Dvur Kralove Safari Park and at another zoo in the city of Brno, have suffered as a result of the country’s lockdowns, because of a lack of visitors. Staff say that for such intelligent creatures, stimulation and interaction is vital to their happiness and well-being.
But with the coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down in the country, staff are faced with the challenge of trying to keep the animals entertained inside enclosures without any people walking past to engage with them.
Zoos were ordered to close in December last year, and it is not known when they will be allowed to reopen.
More than 24,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But while neighboring countries in Europe begin to emerge from stringent stay-at-home measures, the Czech Republic continues to record new infections amid a fresh and severe outbreak of a variant first identified in the United Kingdom that is yet to be contained.
Zookeeper Gabriela Linhartova told CNN that at first the animals were unsure of their new high-tech setup and were wary of it.
Among the group are chimpanzees Faben, Gina and Mary, who are able to virtually observe other apes at another zoo in the country for several hours a day.
“At the beginning they approached the screen with defensive or threatening gestures,” she said, although she added that the chimps had since changed their behavior and seemed to now enjoy their daily video calls and have even taken to grabbing handfuls of snacks in the way that humans do before sitting down for some entertainment.
“It has since moved into the mode of, ‘I am in the movies,’ ” she said.
The live streams run each day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are also available to be viewed on the zoo’s website, much to the delight of animal lovers who are able to watch the groups eat, sleep and make faces at one another.
The project may be extended from one week through the end of March if it is deemed a success, staff said, adding that it can be a “complicated” process to keep the animals entertained throughout the day.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis acknowledged this month that officials had bungled their response to the health crisis, adding that the government made “far too many mistakes” in dealing with the pandemic. Critics say the government eased lockdown measures too early at the end of last year, and that new and emerging variants were not seriously considered a threat.
Residents have been placed under a new nationwide lockdown that only permits them to leave home for essential reasons.