Museums across the country have felt the impact of the COVID-19 and the mandatory stay-at-home orders. Thousands of employees have been laid off and furloughed as these institutions try to stay afloat without revenue from visitors. Zoos and aquariums have an extra element to juggle: live animals. Without reliable income to buy food or pay staff, zoos and aquariums are having to find new ways to cope.
Tierpark Neumünster in Germany has expressed panic at its dwindling budget. With no money coming in, the zoo announced that it may have to start sacrificing certain animals to feed the others. The park’s beloved polar bear, Vitus, would be the last animal standing. While Tierpark Neumünster is only suggesting this as an absolute last resort, it does shine light on some scary scenarios. What would happen if zoos and aquariums run out of money? What if they shut down? What would happen to the animals? These institutions are in uncharted territory. There’s no protocol for handling a pandemic and months of closure.
The animals themselves have been feeling the impact of the pandemic. COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from animals to humans. Snakes, pangolins, and bats are all feasible culprits. Furthermore, we do not know which animals in our zoos could potentially carry the disease or succumb to infection. Tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo have tested positive for COVID-19, likely infected by an asymptomatic zookeeper. Thankfully, all of the cats are doing well and recovering, but there’s little knowledge on how other species will react. Ultimately, COVID-19 is an unknown entity. We know it can infect animals, we know it can pass between humans and animals, but we do not know the full ramifications.
Massachusetts started its four phase reopening on May 18th. As of May 25th, outdoor zoos are allowed to reopen, with strict guidelines. Aquariums and other museums will not be allowed to open until Phase 3. With such limited information about the interspecies spread of COVID-19, it’s risky to allow visitors back into proximity with these animals. Reopening could put both the visitors and the animals at an increased risk of infection.
It’s a tricky balance to find enough money to operate while prioritizing the health of the animals, the visitors, and the staff. In the U.S., museums received aid from the $2 trillion distributed from the CARES Act on March 27th, designed to protect American workers and small businesses. For animal care, zoos and aquariums need more. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has collaborated with the American Alliance of Museums to request an additional $4 billion in relief funding from Congress. Here is the AZA’s form to request aid for zoos and aquariums. Hopefully, with additional funding, zoos and aquariums won’t have to choose between reopening prematurely or feeding their animals to each other.
The title is not meant to be flippant. COVID-19 and the current restrictions placed on the Tufts’ community and at large should be taken seriously. The editors are hoping everyone is safe and healthy. The goal today is to give a glimpse at what those of us self-quarantining can do to entertain ourselves. Mental health is just as important as physical health and being cooped up for most of the day can be depressing. Fortunately, there are a few ways to keep our imaginations occupied in this turbulent time.
First, here is a link back to the museum-studies related podcasts post from last year. The extra time for spring break and not attending a physical class could be used to enrich your knowledge of the museum community with these listens.
Next, there are online museum tours and collections you can visit. Mental Floss’ website provided an article for inspiration. The Louvre has virtual tours about Egyptian antiquities and the remains of the Louvre’s moat. The Guggenheim provides a look at its art collection with a searchable database. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has virtual tours for permanent, present, and past exhibits. The Mental Floss article linked above provides more examples of museums you can visit virtually.
Then, there is the opportunity to flex your social engagement muscles online. Museums have been reaching out to their email subscribers as they have closed in order to reassure visitors during the fight against the virus. While visiting museums will be missed, there is a strong museum community presence on social media. Museum professionals and museums have been posting their favorite collection items on social media stories. On Instagram, the Social Distance Gallery account is hosting BFA and MFA thesis shows because people are stopped from seeing them in person. There is the hashtag on Twitter, #MuseumFromHome, where museum professionals are discussing favorite museum artifacts. Maybe you all can provide your favorite object with that hashtag.
Finally, I come to streaming platforms, like Netflix or Hulu. They have plenty of documentaries to offer about subject matter found in museums. For example, there are National Geographic docs on Disney+ about nature, science, and cultures. On Netflix, they have a doc called Fake or Fortune? that is about art forgeries in museums. Or you can have fun watching National Treasure or Indiana Jones and enjoy the protagonists’ cooperation with museums.
Please let us know if the links are not accessible. Remember, you should not feel pressured to be extra productive in this trying time. Most of us are navigating new terrain with working solely from home, and we should not be pressuring ourselves with unrealistic goals. The stress of the unknown can hopefully be lightened with these activities. I would love to hear about what our readers are reading/watching/etc. to keep them entertained, so please leave suggestions in the comments.
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