Thought Leadership

Conference Recap: The San Diego Zoo Shares the Healing Power of Animals

According to San Diego Zoo Marketing Director Debra Erickson, the inspiration for San Diego Zoo Kids — a children’s TV network dedicated to sharing the healing power of animals — began with an inspiring email.

The email’s writer was a nurse at a Northern California cancer ward, who had reached out to Erickson to tell her how the Zoo’s live panda cam was providing hope for her ill patients.

“She said, ‘My patients that watch the panda cam have less pain, need less pain meds, are less depressed and sleep through the night,'” said Erickson.

The email sparked an idea in Erickson. Though the Zoo already had an program that brought animals to children’s hospitals, these visits could only happen every so often.

What if there was a way for kids to access 24/7, commercial-free animal content on their hospital TVs?

“These kids don’t just need animals one hour a month,” said Erickson, who said that 91 percent of caregivers attest that San Diego Zoo Kids keeps young patients distracted and happy. “They need animals every day.”

At their Tuesday General Session, which capped off an exciting 2019 PRSA International Conference in San Diego, Erickson and Zoo Spokesperson Rick Schwartz shared inspiring stories about the way San Diego Zoo Kids has helped children find joy through difficult periods.

Then, Schwartz and two Zoo handlers brought a few animals out onto the stage so they could see that same joy in the eyes of communicators in the audience.

“These animals have a power to make us feel OK inside,” said Schwartz.

Here are a few highlights from the Zoo’s session:

Photo by John Elsasser
Photo by John Elsasser
Photo by John Elsasser
Photo by John Elsasser

Dean Essner is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications.

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