Now that it’s come and gone, I can write about it and your perspective will hopefully be a bit more clear. I’m talking about the big missed opportunity from the Dallas Zoo’s “splash dancing” Zola the gorilla video.
Many zoos around the country have conservation as part of their missions. Conservation is the ethical protection of natural resources to maintain the health of our ecosystems and biodiversity. Conservation can be done at many levels and many zoos operate on the notion that first viewing an animal creates a connection to it and starts a level of respect and care for wildlife. The idea that we can’t protect what we don’t know about is at its core. Studies have shown this to be true. Building a connection to our natural world does increase empathy towards the protection of wild spaces and wild animals.
This connection to our natural world happens in many ways, from exploring your own backyard to visiting zoos and museums. The next vital step is understanding how we as humans fit into the ecosystem and how our everyday actions affect the environment. Changing some of our small daily actions can have a great impact on the health of our ecosystems and help to conserve wild spaces for wildlife.
Zookeepers are the heart and soul of every zoo. The everyday care they put into their animals is unwavering. I should know, I used to be one. Zookeepers do everything they can to provide stimulating enrichment for each and every animal. One of the best feelings is watching an animal enjoy enrichment you put love, time and effort into creating. When I saw the video of the gorilla dancing in his plastic pool, my heart connected to the cheerful zookeepers heard giggling throughout.
But, the marketing department missed a huge opportunity with the video. They were sitting on a viral video with no plan to connect it back to their conservation mission.
I thought back to the viral movement of the “ice bucket challenge” that raised money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). More than $115 million was donated through the ALS ice bucket challenge during an eight week period in 2014, and $77 million was dedicated to research that led to three new genes discovered in the last two years that will help identify new therapies. The silly fun made a difference.
How could we have connected the gorilla dancing video to a conservation movement?
The video made a huge splash and now it’s gone. Instead, we could have used the video to launch a fun way to engage in conservation. Conservation has many paths and exposing people to it in unique ways is imperative to extending it’s reach beyond the core community. In order to be successful in conserving our ecosystems our reach needs to extend into everyday culture.
Gorillas are facing extreme challenges in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) lists both the Eastern and Western gorilla as critically endangered. Hunting, loss of habitat from forest clearing for agriculture and timber, and disease threaten the continued survival of gorillas. The need to conserve gorillas is at a critical point.
Here’s some fun ways we could have paired the viral video with a conservation movement:
• Modeled off of the ice bucket challenge: #ZolaDanceChallenge. Encourage everyone to film themselves doing their best Zola impression and post to social media. Participants then challenge three others to do the same or donate to gorillafund.org. Partner with wildlife social media influencers and celebrities to help start the movement and, poof, you’re off to doing more than sharing an awesome video.
• Run a contest for the best editing of the video. Allow people to use the video to come up with their own conservation message. One person added the Flashdance song, “She’s a Maniac” to the video and it went viral as well. Get more interaction and ideas from the internet to increase conservation.
• At the very least include a message about gorilla conservation in the video. Connect it back to the very phone that 80 percent of people use to get online and watch the video. The mineral, coltan is needed to make your phone and is harvested in mountain gorilla habitat in the Congo.
When you have something that will reach people far and wide, use it to your advantage to do something different to serve a core mission.