New mobile phone game Pokemon Go has entranced both young and old, turning everyday buildings and monuments into competitive hotspots crawling with otherworldly creatures waiting to be caught. (Brittany Britto, Baltimore Sun video)
Augmented-reality smartphone game Pokemon Go, which allows players to capture Pokemon characters only visible on players' phone screens, has infiltrated the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.
With more than 20 Pokestops — which enable users to gather tools to strengthen and catch Pokemon — and at least two local "gyms," where the players can train their Pokemon and battle other players, the zoo has embraced their newest species, according to Jane Ballentine, a spokeswoman for the zoo.
The Zoo sent out a newsletter Wednesday recognizing the virtual creatures bouncing around their exhibits, and reminding players and zoo patrons to beware of the existing wild animals, noting that attempting to catch Pokemon in restricted areas and exhibits could be dangerous to humans and harmful to animals, Ballentine said.
"We all think it's a lot of fun, but we also recognize it's a zoo. There are wild animals, so we also want to make sure people play safely," Ballentine said.
In order to embrace the new phenomenon while also preaching about zoo safety, the zoo will host "Pokemon mornings" between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Thursday through Saturday of this week, testing out an hour dedicated to catching Pokemon on zoo grounds. The zoo even noted that it would activate "lures," a method in the app that attracts additional Pokemon to the site for the catching. (Paid admission or a Zoo membership is required to enter the Zoo.)
Ballentine, who first saw a Pokemon bouncing around next to a pelican in the zoo's Penguin Coast exhibit, said phones were vibrating, and several people were taking pictures of the animals and staring intensely into their phones on Monday.
"We couldn't figure out why," Ballentine said.
Once other aquariums and zoos began emailing the Maryland Zoo about the same experience, Ballentine and other zoo staff began to discuss the new Pokemon phenomenon.
Their approach: "Pokemon are here, whether we wanted them to be here or not … let's figure out how to embrace it and make it more fun," Ballentine said.
The number of Pokemon Go players at the zoo since the game's launch last week hasn't been overwhelming, Ballentine said, but it's only been a week. The Pokemon mornings will help gauge how many interested player there are and will ultimately help test out safe Pokemon Go playing on zoo grounds, she said.