The herd was lined up at the gates of our zoo when I opened up this morning. They were still swarming about when we closed. And, as I worked late and passed by the locked gates of the zoo, I saw them come up in small groups, see the closed entrance, and walk away dejected.
Normally, crowds at the zoo make me smile, but try as I may, this one only irritated me. If they'd come to see a new exhibit or reacquaint themselves with some favorite animal, I'd have been delighted. If they'd come for a special event or education program, that would be great too. Hell, if they just came to enjoy the weather and get some exercise, I'd be happy enough.
Instead, every single one of them was looking at their phone. And, I'm willing to bet, every single one was playing Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go, for those who have not been acquainted (as I was not until this week) is a mobile app scavenger hunt game, where players try to track down and "capture" Pokémon, fictitious magical animals from a popular Japanese anime. For reasons that I still don't quite understand, every zoo in the country seems to be full of these hidden Pokémon, hence the tremendous crowds every day. Every other zoo I've talked to has been experiencing the same. Presumably, it's because we cover lots of ground, are open to the public, and have lots of hiding spots.
It's hard not to be irritated by people coming to the zoo just to look at their phones and not enjoy the animals. But, at the same time, at least they're getting exercise and not sitting on the couch playing video games all day. Most seem to be playing in groups, and they're all having a good time, so at least there's that. And hey, some of them might be distracted long enough from the fake animals they are stalking to pay attention to the real ones that surround them.
Or, as a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook, "You really want a cool version of Pokémon Go? Buy some binoculars and a guide book and try a new game. It's called 'Birding'... it's the same thing, really, except it's real, and you might learn something."
I'm sure it's only a matter of time before some enterprising zoo educators come up with a way to make a lesson plan around this. Heck, it might be one of the best things to happen to our little zoo for a while (at the very least they're hitting the snack bar while they're here). Until I can think of something else to tie Pokémon to the zoo, however, I'll just watch the crowds zip around the zoo... and make sure to get those gates open on time every day.