So the Lincoln Park Zoo is in a world of hurt, having decremented their animal count by eight and not by sending ’em back to the bush. I don’t know what’s going on there, exactly, but I can speak for much of Chicago in saying that we really really really want to give you the benefit of the doubt, LPZoo. You are one of the only free zoos left in the country and such a gem in the middle of the park. There is absolutely nothing better than a stroll on the lake with a quick duck in to see the animals. But, jeez! What’s going on?
Today I chaperoned my son’s class on a field trip to the zoo. Somehow all the 3-4 year-olds knew that the elephants had died. I know I didn’t tell them and I suspect the teachers didn’t either. Meme’s get around, I guess. It was all they could talk about. They don’t even know what death is. Problem is that at midday most of the animals are lounging in the shade, motionless, which of course prompted incessant questioning: Is the hippo dead? Are the coyotes dead? And my favorite, because it was was looking right at us: Is the tiger dead?
Suggestion for the LPZoo. In addition to your press relations effort regarding the deaths at the zoo how about you position a smart staffer at every one of the exhibits that used to house the now-deceased. Make it a point to discuss things openly with children who come by. Don’t remove the elephant signage and not expect kids (or adults) to notice. We know the zoo like our backyard. Be overt and forthcoming. Explain disease, explain the stress of captivity, explain that sometimes we don’t know why animals die. This will win the day eventually and will benefit the kids ultimately. Animals don’t just disappear.