HARPURSVILLE, NY: With its pregnant giraffe about to give birth at any moment, Animal Adventure Park launched a live-video feed to help it keep up with fan mail—six emails a day —checking on whether a calf had been born.
Little did the Upstate New York animal park know the feed would become a global sensation with more than 1 billion views, making responding to fan email a truly hopeless task.
"We thought maybe we’d have a few thousand people watching—not all at once, but over time," said Animal Adventure Park owner Jordan Patch. "I said to my team, ‘Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we had 10,000 people watch her give birth?’ We’ve had many more than that already."
February 10 was the first time the park rolled out a live webcam, giving the public a pen-side view of the giraffe, named April. Giraffe pregnancies last 15 months, giving the park ample time to tell guests the giraffe was expected to give birth in January or February.
Before setting up the feed, Patch and his off-season team of five were prepared for criticism. The park has no communications staffers; Patch handles PR as part of his job.
"Conversation among staff was that we knew we’d have eyes on everything we do, so let’s keep our standards where they are," he said. "We can’t have a mess-up day where we forget to clean every speck or forget to fill the hay feeders on time. You are going to have critics watching now, so just be prepared."
The webcam was launched with little fanfare; the park simply pasted a link to the feed on its Facebook page.
In its first few days, no more than 100 people watched at the same time. That number jumped to about 2,000 two weeks later.
Patch brought on RVSA Advertising before rolling out the feed. Cortney Sands-Whalen, RVSA’s director of digital media, said her firm started a Facebook contest a week after the launch, telling people to comment on and share a post including the video to get a season pass.
Within a week, the contest post reached more than 265,000 people and garnered 45,000-plus click-throughs to the live feed. The number of likes on the park’s Facebook page increased from more than 32,000 to 389,500 from February 21-28.
The video received a spike in views after CBS Denver covered the livestream on February 22, Patch said. However, YouTube pulled the feed the next morning after animal-rights activists complained about "nudity and sexual content" in violation of the site’s policy.
Patch said he found out at 7:30 a.m. EST that day that the feed was taken down. Within a half hour, he posted an impromptu statement on Facebook Live, which has been viewed more than 2 million times.
After Patch posted the video statement, the park’s stream was back up and running by 9:30 a.m. EST that morning. (A YouTube representative was not immediately available to comment).
Patch said his statement was "off the cuff and from the heart."
"My response was fuelled by complete bafflement and the sense of how dare these people compromise something so many were getting enjoyment and education from but also muting this message of conservation and betterment of animals in the wild," said Patch. "What an oxymoron approach to your mission."
More than 114,000 people were watching the feed at 2:45 p.m. EST on Wednesday. Fan groups with names like "April’s View Crew" and "Team Egg" have also surfaced.
Patch said he receives threatening emails from animal-rights activists, as well as notes thanking the park for the live feed. He said it’s impossible for his team to field all of the messages, so he focuses on replying to school groups.
"Watching for a few minutes, people become emotionally invested in what is occurring and they are hooked," said Patch. "This is bigger than the eagle cam. This has captured and filled a niche for people who were sick of the politics and nonsense being covered in news media and welcoming a relaxing, easygoing natural thing."
Patch said he wants to create a dialogue about giraffes, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature placed on its red list of threatened species in December.
The park is in its off-season until May 13, but Patch said he is already concerned with handling the crowds attracted by the baby giraffe. The park and RVSA are awaiting the birth with plans to send out a media kit and press release on the big day. The agency’s focus will be on media relations. Animal Adventure Park will keep the live feed running for a few days after the calf’s birth and load weekly or bi-weekly updates to YouTube so fans can keep tabs on the calf.
"This is now a great resource for the park and without question will yield higher attendance numbers this year," said Patch. "We have had people from all over the country making plans to visit us and submitting questions on when to come, how to get here, what events are coming up, and where the closest hotels are."