I heard about a guy whose research is on European Penguin genetics, and my natural response was “which European penguins?” But it just so happens that there are enough domesticated penguins in zoos around Europe that their genetic history and breeding requires a lot of monitoring. Penguin adults are swapped to avoid inbreeding, chicks are bred in incubators, and penguin population dynamics and species spread is totally controlled by people like him and other scientists.
The London Zoo has a pretty large penguin roster, and they just recently opened their new penguin exhibit – the first penguin beach in England! They have Blackfooted penguins (aka the African penguin), Humboldts, Macaroni penguins, and one lonely rock-hopper penguin named Ricky who enjoys pruning friendly people.
During the exhibit launch, speeches focused on the seriousness of climate change and depleting fish stocks, since these result in catastrophic consequences for penguin breeding and survival. No average person in England or elsewhere might understand the importance of eating and living sustainably, but the carbon footprint of the entire western world is the root of both problems. Penguin populations worldwide are depleting, and as global warming melts the pack ice in Antarctica, penguins are losing their nautral habitat, the rich fishing waters, and even the ability to breed.
At the zoo, penguins are fed all their meals and receive medical attention and antibiotics whenever necessary, so even though many want to see these penguins in the wild exhibiting natural behavior, I’d say theyre pretty damn happy to stay. These penguins have now been domesticated for generations, so living in the wild might be impossible for them anyway; the point of the Penguin Beach and other zoo-kept colonies of penguins is to allow us to better understand them and let people, who know nothing about them or Antartica, be more aware of issues surrounding them, and perhaps fall in love with penguins enough to help make a difference.
I have family in London I meant to see but with a 2 day delay on my trip (thanks Grimsvotn), my entire London experience was centered around penguins. I stayed with 2 friends that I met last year in Antarctica, a penguin zookeeper and a Dr. Penguinologist (his actual title), and also squeezed in some time with a fellow globetrotter who travels the world surfing and photographing it (find him on facebook – Murray Ash Photography). I spent a couple days in quaint little Oxford, saw a lot of beautiful things and heard some angelic sounds like a baroque trio and organ recital in 300 year old churches, but didn’t learn nearly as much there as I did in my one day at the zoo.
Hopefully my adoration of penguins has come across clearly in this blog, and if you ever get the chance to cuddle one at the zoo, swim with one in Galapagos, and walk through a million of them in Antarctica, I guarantee you’ll be a sucker for penguins too. Now Im off to South Africa for more jackass penguin loving, not called jackasses because they’re rude (no such thing as a mean penguin) but because they howl like very cute, tuxedo-dressed donkeys.
Support Penguin Research and Meet Dr. Penguinologist: http://www.zsl.org/conservation/regions/antarctica/