A Wild Hangout

Georgia’s Zoo Atlanta is finding new ways to connect with visitors near and far

July 13, 2012

Panda Xi Lan eats a snack at Zoo Atlanta, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The zookeepers at Zoo Atlanta want you to come hang out with them! But you don’t have to travel all the way to Atlanta, Georgia, to do so. All you need is a computer, a webcam, an Internet connection and access to Google Plus. (Always be sure to ask a parent, guardian or teacher for permission before signing up for any social networking sites.)

This summer, the zoo started experimenting with Google Plus Hangouts. The special feature, available on the Google Plus site, allows up to 10 people to connect to one video chat window. Since June, Zoo Atlanta has done Hangouts about amphibians, giant pandas and macaws. Each Hangout is hosted by a keeper who can talk about his or her work at the zoo and who can answer questions about the specific animal.

The main goal of the virtual chats is to expand the zoo’s educational reach to students of all ages, say Zoo Atlanta representatives Keisha Hines and Richard Hezlep. “It’s like distance learning,” Hezlep told TFK. “And it’s a cool way of bringing people all together on one video screen.”

Panda Party!

Hines says the most popular Hangout of the three so far was the giant panda talk. On June 20, panda expert Jen Webb held a Hangout with third-graders from Parkside Elementary School and with several groups of campers. Through the 30-minute web chat, the kids were able to ask Webb questions and watch a live video feed of bears at the same time. “The children loved the interaction and the props that the keeper had,” Hines said. (Watch a video of the Zoo Atlanta Panda Hangout below.)

The zoo is still working out the best ways to conduct the online chats. But the plan is to make the Hangouts a regular feature. “Our core mission at the zoo is education, conservation and research, so we’re always looking for ways in which we can use social media and technology to connect with the public,” Hines says. “The response has been very positive.”

What zoo animals would you like to hang out with next? Connect with Zoo Atlanta today, and let them know!

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