By KEVIN JOY, The Associated Press , April 8, 2012
But the scene could also be enjoyed from afar as part of the zoo's latest promotion: four high-definition cameras streaming live from the bear and penguin habitats, the aquarium and the aviary.
Paid for through an ongoing sponsorship by Nationwide Insurance, the around-the-clock digital effort launched last week at www.yourzooview.com has a dual purpose.
"Not everybody can make it to the zoo when they want to see a critter," said Justin McKinniss, the zoo's strategic partnerships manager. "We wanted to make this an extension.
"The guest experience starts when you're at home, before you decide to visit."
Unlike past webcam technology with grainy, slow-to-load images, the new zoo streams allow users — one at a time, loaded via a queue — to control the angle and closeness of the feed for a 60-second period that all online visitors can see while awaiting a turn.
Such virtual viewings are becoming popular in a number of venues, as folks with high-speed Internet connections opt to watch the online antics of both wild and domestic animals from their couches and cubicles.
"For me, it's exciting," said Terri Dawson, 43, who has been keeping tabs on the zoo animals from the family's iPad with her 9-year-old daughter, Abi. "It makes us want to check out the exhibits."
Buzz returned last week, meanwhile, when the "falcon cam" began broadcasting again from a nook on the 41st floor of the Rhodes Tower Downtown, where recurring female resident Durand, a Peregrine falcon, and her unnamed mate are tending to three eggs.
They'll likely hatch by the end of the month, said Donna Daniel, assistant wildlife management supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which has taped the birds' nesting since the mid-1990s.
The Rhodes camera received more than 280,000 views in 2010, with watchers tuning in from as far away as Africa, Australia and Europe. Numbers dipped last year after none of Durand's five eggs hatched.
Whatever the outcome, "It gives a complete view into these birds' lives," said Daniel, who writes a blog about the falcon cam. "There are Internet forums where people get online and talk about what the birds are doing.
"In a way, it's kind of like a soap opera."
Because webcams are far from new — and most are secured to one spot without any maneuvering capability — such technology wouldn't seem all that enticing.
With camera placements ranging from animal shelters to wildlife preserves, a balance of curiosity and ease of use is driving eyeballs.
"It is as close to TV quality as we have ever been able to deliver," said Will Ferris, CEO of the San Diego webcam-hosting service HD Relay, which designed the Columbus Zoo setup. "It is truly a must-see."
Consider a 2008 live stream dubbed the "Shina Ibu Puppy Cam," which attracted more than 18 million views of a camera focused on a pint-sized litter of six and became the most popular offering ever on hosting site Ustream, according to The New York Times. A second round of Shina Ibu pups born to the same San Francisco family found rabid online fandom two years later.
Sponsored by the Discovery Channel to promote its ongoing Frozen Planet series, a high-definition "penguin cam" installed in the Penguin Encounter exhibit at SeaWorld San Diego has received more than 60 million clicks since March 1.
Response to the feature, set to end April 30, has been "overwhelming" and proves "people are truly fascinated," said SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz.
At Highbanks Metro Park, a streaming feed of a pair of nesting bald eagles has attracted 14,000 views since its debut a month ago at www.metroparks.net, where the "eagle cam" is a featured link on the homepage.
Although the eagles, which have nested at the Far North Side preserve for three years, are a huge in-person draw to the park's observation deck, the 24/7, up-close camera provides extra perspective.
"It's a great tool to bring people together, an opportunity to see nature from their homes," said Metro Parks spokeswoman Peg Hanley, who derived the idea from a similar project at a Virginia botanical garden.
The camera and installation were donated by a Columbus information-technology company with "minimal" costs for online hosting, Hanley said.
With some HD cameras selling for about $500 and the simpler ones costing much less, such appeal has other sites considering these tools to draw eyes.
The Capital Area Humane Society has weighed the merits of adding a "puppy cam" in its Hilliard facility.
The society hasn't ironed out the expenses and time commitment, however, said spokeswoman Mary Hiser.
Still, she mentioned that the shelter sometimes posts videos of adoptable animals on its Facebook page, including recent footage of a new litter of puppies.
After the latest video went up on March 19, all six dogs immediately found homes.
"It's a great idea," said Hiser, a frequent watcher of live streams from the San Diego Zoo and, now, those at the Columbus Zoo.
"I'd love to see us have one."
Called Your Zoo View, the Columbus Zoo's website can be attained by clicking here (for more info)