Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
“The 20 tuxedoed birds waddled outdoors onto the beach and naturally did what penguins in the wild do–they went swimming,” said a caption the zoo released with these photos.
The penguins, 10 males and 10 females, arrived three weeks ago from five other U.S. zoos and aquariums. The birds range in ages 1 to 20 years old and moved from Brookfield Zoo (Chicago), SeaWorld (San Diego), Rosamond Gifford Zoo (Syracuse, NY), Saint Louis Zoo and Aquarium of Niagara (Niagara Falls, New York).
“Watching the penguins take their first steps outdoors was truly remarkable,” said Celine Pardo, a penguin keeper at Woodland Park Zoo. “They took to the water immediately, and showed off their innate prowess of diving and ‘flying’ underwater. It was very rewarding to see them behave just like wild penguins.”
The new exhibit replicates the desert coast of Punta San Juan–home of the largest colony of wild Humboldt penguins in Peru.”The 17,000-square-foot naturalistic home features shoreline cliffs, viewable entrances to nesting burrows, rocky tide pools, crashing waves and a beach,” the zoo says.
Windows and acrylic walls offer guests “nose-to-beak viewing” as penguins splash, dive and swoop underwater. Other observations for visitors may include seeing the birds feeding, preening, and squabbling over nesting sites during the breeding season (February/March)–much like they do on the Peruvian shores in the wild, the statement said.
The penguin exhibit is built with the environment in mind, including geothermal energy; an innovative filtration system that will save 3 million gallons of water and nearly 22,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year–”the equivalent of saving 24 million pints of drinking water, and heating five, new two-bedroom townhouses each year”; containment of and recycled stormwater runoff to conserve tap water and prevent pollution of surrounding streams and other natural water sources.
The penguins arrived at Woodland Park through recommendations by the Humboldt penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) to ultimately form a breeding colony, said Mark Myers, a curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “Our plan to grow the colony also involves acquiring more penguins through the SSP.”
Species Survival Plans are cooperative breeding programs that work to ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability in North American zoos and aquariums. The Humboldt penguin SSP is among 39 SSPs that Woodland Park Zoo participates in, including plans for the western lowland gorilla, ocelot, Komodo dragon and red panda. SSPs also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.
As conservation ambassadors, the endangered penguins at the zoo will help heighten awareness about their plight in the wild, Woodland Park Zoo says. “It is estimated that only 12,000 endangered Humboldt penguins survive in the wild. Overfishing of anchovies–the penguin’s primary food source–and other human activities, such as the harvesting of guano deposits, which penguins rely on to build nests in, pose the greatest threats to their survival.”
Woodland Park Zoo is also committed to conserving Humboldt penguins in Peru, by supporting the Humboldt Penguin Conservation Center at Punta San Juan, breeding endangered penguins through the Species Survival Plan, and encouraging visitors to choose sustainable seafood options, the zoo says.