When the pandemic shut down the Cincinnati Zoo in March, Andie Haugen—known as Andie Panda on TikTok—wanted to keep sharing her infectious joy for animals and for her job with the world. And the world responded: Her account has 260,000 followers and more than 4.5 million likes from people interested in her interactions with the Zoo’s residents. Plus, her videos have been shared by media stars like John Oliver.
How did your TikTok stardom start?
I didn’t understand TikTok, so I was not expecting that kind of reaction. I have other zookeeper friends who were getting on TikTok to reach a younger generation of kids and people through social media, especially during the pandemic when the zoo was closed and people couldn’t come. It was a great way to share what we were doing with our animals and all the conservation and other fun stuff we’re doing.
You’re part of the Cat Ambassador Program at the Cincinnati Zoo. Tell us about your background.
I’ve been at the zoo for three years now, and before this I was working at the Ft. Worth Zoo in Texas. I was an animal trainer down there. There were no cheetah runs. It was a different position, but I loved it. Before that, I was working at a small zoo near the University of Michigan. In college there, I did a bunch of studies abroad and volunteering abroad. I worked at different wildlife sanctuaries, including the world’s largest giant panda breeding organization in China. I spent a month working there, which was really awesome, because I’m obsessed with pandas.
John Oliver used one of your TikToks in a Last Week Tonight clip.
It was really cool that he used the video I took of our red river hog saying Hi! to our meerkats. I think it’s another way to get out all the cool stuff we’re doing. Even though it’s a pandemic, we’re still giving our animals the best care we can. The guy who played Zazu in the  Lion King movie is showing the video of our pig with the meerkats. It’s pretty crazy.
Your videos have tens of thousands of views, and some even have millions. Why do you think they’re so popular?
I think it’s just being able to offer some positivity in really dark times. It’s a hard world to live in right now, and we’re all looking for something we can be happy about and stand together with. I think seeing all the great work we’re doing here at the zoo and seeing our animals are happy and healthy, it’s just fun. People love seeing our cheetahs running, they love seeing Fiona, and they love seeing our domestic dogs being best friends with cheetahs. That’s not something you see every day.
Tell us about the huge cheetah tattoo across your back.
I got it done a few months ago, modeled after one of the cheetahs here at the zoo, Donni. It’s kind of a way I can commemorate all the hard work it took for me to get to where I am today and to look forward to the future for animal conservation and what my future holds as well.