When news spread that giant panda Mei Xiang was pregnant—a mere one week earlier—views to her live stream panda cam ballooned by 1,200%. Suddenly the world became armchair zoologists. USA Today even taught us how to look for signs of impending labor.
By the time Mei Xiang did go into labor, the website had crashed. The National Zoo took to social media to keep watchers updated, even posting the birth footage to its Facebook page. By Saturday morning, anxious panda cam viewers could get a live glimpse of the proud mama cuddling her tiny pink cub.
Wildlife and zoo cams have soared in popularity during the pandemic. Georgia Aquarium, for example, reported a 3,000% increase in daily webcam traffic in mid-March. After all, what better way to explore the world from the safety of quarantine?
Here are some of the world’s favorites.
- Cuddling koalas: Live streams from Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia, the world’s oldest and largest koala sanctuary.
- Hungry hippos and more: The San Diego Zoo has many webcams set up across the property, including brand new hippo and platypus cams.
- Good dogs: Retired canines who’ve earned their right to lounge around at Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Mount Juliet, Tennessee.
- Widdle kittens: A peek inside the nursery at Kitten Rescue Sanctuary in Los Angeles.
- Swim with the sharks: The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California with several live cams including one as fixated on sharks as you are.
- Narwhal tracker: OK, so it’s not a live feed, but the World Wildlife Federation’s Narwhal Tracker map is the next best thing for fans of the near-mythical creatures.
The trend is inspiring brands that work with animals to consider jumping into the live-streaming game. It’s not as easy as it looks, though. Some live streams have sophisticated setups, while others use basic security cameras and a free streaming account on YouTube Live. What happens between those connections is what’s important. You need a fast internet connection and encoding capabilities. As the National Zoo found out, you may also need to handle spontaneously high traffic.
And what if something goes wrong? What if Mei Xiang’s birth had gone awry? Don’t forget to consider things from PR and legal contingency standpoints and plan for potential worst-case scenarios before going live.
After all, we’re talking about nature here. It’s unpredictable.
What’s your plan to “shut down” the stream as quickly as possible? Who will handle messaging if that happens (and what will the message be)? What happens when your “made for kids” designation on YouTube is suddenly in jeopardy due to a graphic incident?
The questions are worth answering with a predicted 82% of internet traffic being driven by video by 2022.
As for Mei Xiang and her baby (we’re still awaiting the baby’s gender and name), you’ll be able to watch them together on their panda cam for the next four years. At that time, the newest U.S. panda may be sent back to China due to an agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Fear not, though; there will be plenty of tigers, giraffes, manatees, cockatoos, and more to watch live. You can even watch ants scurrying about the Houston Zoo, if that’s your thing.
Feature image photo via Smithsonian’s National Zoo Facebook page