If you’ve been to the Bronx Zoo, you know there’s tons of animals to see on its expansive campus. But when you watch the Animal Planet The Zoo TV show, which starts its third season this Sunday, you get to go behind those exhibit walls.
From a kangaroo undergoing cryotherapy for its arthritis to the birth of a miniscule pygmy marmoset, Animal Planet’s The Zoo has followed the behind-the-scenes lives of the Bronx Zoo animals and their keepers for two seasons.
Now The Zoo Season 3, which airs Sunday, Feb. 10 at 8 p.m., will give even more “insider” access and up close looks at animals like Mot Mot the marmot, Calisto the sloth and Sneedy the African crested porcupine. It’s longest the longest season yet with 16 episodes — up from 8 in Season 1 and 10 in Season 2.
“Before this show, the only thing visitors saw was the exhibits,” says Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo and executive vice president of Zoos & Aquarium for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The exhibits are great elaborate, immersion exhibits that show animals in their natural habitats, but [people are] really interested in what goes on behind the scenes: where do the animals live, what do the animals eat, the animal’s personality, the animal’s behavior, and this show gives us a platform to showcase that.”
Sneedy the African crested porcupine. Metro/Bess Adler
The show has opened people’s eyes to how the Bronx Zoo is more than just a place to see lions, tigers and bears (and penguins and kangaroos and emus). Breheny says the most common reaction he gets from people who have seen the Animal Planet show is about how they didn’t realize the zoo had a hospital that allows for “elaborate health care procedures” on the animals.
“It’s really highlighted how much we as professional institutions have evolved not only to provide the best care and welfare for individual animals,” he says, “but also they’re surprised at how we work to sustain and conserve species.”
Those two prongs, animal welfare and species conservation, are at the core of how the Bronx Zoo operates, but staff admit that that may not be obvious to everyone right away.
To Kathleen LaMattina, Bronx Zoo curator of Animal Encounters, the Animal Planet The Zoo show has been able to reveal what the staff exactly does “better than, I think, most of us can explain.”
“It’s really helped take that negative stigma out of the word ‘zoo,’” she added.
Animal Planet The Zoo Season 3: What it shows of the Bronx Zoo
There are more than 6,000 animals in the Bronx Zoo’s 265 acres. The Zoo Season 3 features about 50 animal stories. Though this is just a fraction of the species they have, it’s still a diverse snapshot that could introduce viewers to animals they didn’t know — and often does, says Breheny.
“I think what’s really neat about the show, when you come to the zoo I think you have a list of the five or 10 animals you want to see, right?” he says. “Everybody wants to see a giraffe, everybody wants to see an elephant, everyone wants to see a tiger. Because we’re such a large zoo and because we have these really dynamic, diverse exhibits that showcase habitats from all around the world, we introduce people to species they didn’t even know exist.”
That helps conservation efforts by educating the public about these species, but also just by getting them to care about these animals on a personal level.
“People will work to protect what they know and understand,” Breheny says.
On The Zoo Season 3, you’ll get to see the stories of a camel who has a toupee created for him as he heals from a medical procedure, the construction and opening of the new Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit at the New York Aquarium (including how they moved the sharks in to their new habitat, and a gelada monkey with heart issues who gets outfitted with a monitor from Mount Sinai Hospital doctors.
Dave the kangaroo will make an appearance in Season 3. Metro/Bess Adler
Breheny thinks Peaches the warthog will be a fan favorite. At less than a year old, Peaches weighs 150 pounds, and his The Zoo episode follows how he first came to the Bronx Zoo as “a little fella.”
The Animal Planet show definitely creates fans, employees say, of both the animals and the zoo itself. Visitors often come to ask about how that arthritic kangaroo, Dave, is doing, and seek out staff they see on the show, LaMattina says.
“After the first season, we had this nice young couple that saw me and Jim by the Children’s Zoo, and they ran over and they said, ‘You know, we went to Africa a few years ago and we’d said we’d never come to a zoo, we think animals should be seen in the wild,’” she says. “Then they saw the show and became members. That meant a lot.”
The Zoo Season 3 begins Sunday, February 10 at 8 p.m. on Animal Planet