Anyone who’s spent enough time online is probably well aware of the fact that honey badgers are completely bad-ass. But they’re also apparently the ideal choice when it comes to running a zoo’s social media account.
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Selected because he is active during the day and at night, has a definite personality and loves being with people, BG began tweeting on 14 June this year using a system devised by the agency. The system was developed and installed by Hellocomputer and comprises motion-triggered, animal-friendly sensors installed at several places in the spacious enclosure and connected wirelessly to an on-site base station located outside the enclosure. It most likely takes its inspiration from one built on a much smaller scale at a Hellocomputer hackathon, which resulted in the world’s first tweeting hamster.
The base station is itself connected to the agency’s server, which hosts a database of pre-written tweets. As BG moves around his camp, he trips the sensors which then send relevant tweets. If he is munching at his food bowl, he’ll be sure to trigger a food-related tweet, for example.
Kerry Friend, executive creative director of Hellocomputer says the project was an attempt to get the zoo more engaged on digital media.
“The Zoo does a wonderful job connecting with animal fans using many different traditional media, but it has steered away from the digital realm until now. Having acknowledged the many benefits of engaging with its target base using social media, it wanted an especially appealing way of doing so.
“Hellocomputer’s logic was that, since the thing that people love about the Zoo is its animals, it makes sense for an animal to tweet.
“The job has fallen on BG’s shoulders right now but there are plenty of interesting candidates, ones who are on the extinction list and who could become ‘spokesanimals’ for their species as well. Who knows what the future will bring,” she said.
For its part, the zoo said that BG’s safety was critical to its acceptance of the project.
“While we were immediately enchanted by Hellocomputer’s innovative proposal to turn one of our most social animals into a social media spokesperson, we stressed that we could not put BG at risk at all”, said Johannesburg Zoo’s Brand & Communications Manager, Letta Madlala..
“The system designed by Hellocomputer utilises wireless sensors, so there’s nothing for BG to chew on, choke on or entangle himself in. They are also small and unobtrusive, and have been attached at the highest points of the enclosure, while the base station and its solar power source, which are more difficult to ruggedise, have been placed outside the enclosure.
“The sensors are also enclosed in hard-to-penetrate Perspex so, if BG does manage to get his claws on one — and let’s face it, honey badgers are resourceful and very strong creatures — he will not be able to penetrate it in the short term and it can be retrieved by zoo staff,” she added.
While several of BG’s tweets will address his daily activities — such as his walks around the zoo which he takes on a lead, his mealtimes and his play times — the zoo says it will also get him to promote any special events:
Pipe down little pigeon! At the Joburg Zoo the birds aren’t the only animals that tweet. #tweetingbadger
— Tweeting Badger (@zootweetslive) July 1, 2013
— Tweeting Badger (@zootweetslive) June 30, 2013
A kid nearby just won’t stop crying. In the wild that sort of thing won’t get you a lollipop, it’ll get you a hungry lion. #badgertip
— Tweeting Badger (@zootweetslive) June 28, 2013
While Hellocomputer has written several rules to govern BG’s tweets limiting the number of tweets a day and an hour or the number of tweets triggered from one station, its server will log BG’s exact movements as they trigger the sensors.
This data will be retained and made available to the Zoo at a future date should it have a need to research or contribute to research being done into animal behaviour in captivity.