COAL VALLEY, Ill. —
The Niabi Zoo is offering "Virtual Experience" tours of their facility, hosted by zookeepers and offering a behind-the-scenes look at their work.
The virtual tours were being offered starting in the spring of 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, as a way to continue to serve the Quad Cities community.
More than 70% of the zoo's income comes from visitors physically coming to the zoo. With state restrictions forcing them to remain closed during their open season, this is a way they can maintain necessities at the zoo.
"During this time, we do have to remember that it's not only people being affected, it's these animals," said Joel Vanderbush, the zoo's curator of conservation and education. The income the zoo relies on pays for everything from the cost of food for the animals to workers who care for them.
"Our zookeepers are definitely the definition of an essential worker because without them these (animals) don't get to eat," he said.
Vanderbush said the virtual tours are a way to expand education opportunities. These tours also carry the benefit of allowing people to experience parts of the the zoo they normally wouldn't, and in a cost-effective way.
"Our primary focus is to reach people locally so they can still stay connected with what we've got going on here at the zoo," said Vanderbush, "so we wanted to provide them with something pretty unique that they wouldn't normally get to experience."
These virtual tours have had an added bonus, in allowing people from outside the area to experience the Niabi Zoo as well.
Zoo leaders said they plan to continue the "Virtual Experience" tours even after the zoo reopens.
Tours are available for both individuals and groups. Individuals can take a tour for $5, or $10 for a household.
Tours for groups including between 10 and 100 participants cost $100.