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Here’s how Phoenix Zoo’s Fernando the sloth became star fundraiser

PHOENIX – In a world turned upside-down, perhaps it’s only appropriate that the Phoenix Zoo’s newest star fundraiser is a sloth.

Fernando may be slow, but he’s become a top earner for the zoo while it’s closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the two-toed sloth joined Cameo, a video-sharing platform where people pay for celebrity shoutouts, the zoo has received 150 requests for a personalized clip. His popularity let the zoo boost his fee from $25 to $50.

“I think we’ve gotten more creative, kind of thinking a little bit outside the box. We’re trying things we never have before,” said Bert Castro, the Phoenix Zoo’s president and CEO.

Despite 4-year-old Fernando’s best efforts, the zoo has been losing $80,000 a day since shuttering March 18, Castro said.

The facility has been approved for $2.7 million in loans under the federal program and has raised hundreds of thousands online for its 3,000 animals.

Castro believes behind-the-scenes Facebook Live videos make people feel more connected to the zoo. In the past month, viewership has spiked 350%, and its Instagram following is growing.

Fernando’s Cameo appearances may be a tiny boost, but “it’s so popular we’ll continue it for as long as we can,” Castro said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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