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  • Writer's pictureBrent Meynen

This was ZOO Antwerp from your kot

What a glorious day it was on 8 May 2020! The sun was shining, the birds were chattering in the trees, which is why we chose to go out for the day… to the zoo! And you were all able to join us thanks to the livestream. There were so many of you too… The penguins (and we) were overwhelmed by your enthusiasm and your kind words.

Ilias El Kostit was our host for the occasion. “I miss the library”, he started off by saying. “It’s quite difficult to do my assignments without a library. After a few weeks of being stuck in my kot, this short visit to the zoo was excellent. I’ve always loved animals. My greatest wish to have my own TV programme with animals. Or to have a penguin as a pet. So now I get to practice for two of my dreams! The zoo also looks wonderful at this time of the year. I think we really made a lot of people happy today.”

There was not much time to visit the other animals. But Ilias managed to slip away briefly to admire Thandie the baby gorilla. “Monkeys and apes are my favourites. They’re so intelligent. That baby gorilla made me feel all mushy inside.”

School is Cool singer and UAntwerp alumnus Johannes Genard is also a loyal zoo visitor. He wanted to do something for the animals and their caretakers, which is why he performed several songs, including his own version, which he prepared last-minute, of The Circle of Life. The caretakers took a brief break from their work for the occasion.

During the livestream, we also met Heidi, who takes care of the penguins. She’s been working in the zoo for 35 years already. She started out in the bird enclosure. After ten years, she requested to be moved to her favourite feathered friends, the penguins. “I didn’t hesitate for a second when they asked me to do a caretaker chat for UAntwerp. My son is a student at the university. I wonder whether he also watched the livestream? We’ve all been affected by this crisis. I also spent two weeks at home, which is why it’s twice as nice to be back in the zoo, caring for the animals. We miss our visitors a lot and they’ve missed plenty of things here too. The high season usually kicks off at Easter, when many children, their parents and other people come to enjoy our magnificent park. But Easter came and went… and the paths remained empty. It broke my heart. I really hope that we will recover from this.”

These are very strange times for the zoo and its employees. The number of caretakers has been reduced to limit exposure to other people as much as possible. Moreover, there are no visitors, which means no revenue. Although the zoo receives government grants, these are mainly used for the maintenance of the historic buildings in the park. They are not intended to be used for the animals. The zoo and the animals need our help.

“You can support the zoo in various ways”, says Katrien Goossens of KMDA. "You can adopt one of our animals, make a donation or purchase or extend your membership. It would already make a big difference for us. And you can easily do all of this online.” What’s more, UAntwerp students can buy a membership for just €50 a year!”

When we can visit the zoo again (because we all bought a membership, of course), Heidi suggests that we visit Urban. “This tiny emperor penguin is just 7 months old, but he already weighs in at 15 kg! Which is ten times more than the average flamingo. It’s that thick layer of blubber of course. Urban looks fuzzy and cute for now, but soon his soft baby feathers will make way for proper penguin feathers.” Hopefully, we will all have the pleasure of admiring Urban’s transformation first-hand in the penguin enclosure. And while we’re there, we may also be able to witness another wonderful event. The zoo is eagerly anticipating new emperor penguin eggs by the end of June. Will Urban be a big brother by the end of the year?

There is so much more students can do in the zoo than visit the animals. “There are a lot of students that eat their lunch here or sketch the animals or pop in in between courses. I’ll be incredibly happy to see them here again”, says Heidi.

“We have so many fun stories to share”, Katrien concludes. “I hope that this livestream showed that the zoo is not just home to interesting animals, but that we also have a lovely garden, passionate caretakers and gardeners who are real artists. I think putting them in the spotlight here today was wholly deserved.”

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