Friday, February 12, 2010

Penguin Love at the Knoxville Zoo

Knoxville Zoo love stories are better than soap operas

Lee Ann Bowman     Updated: 2/11/2010 8:34:00 PM    Posted: 2/11/2010 6:50:46 PM

Forget watching soap operas--if you want a tale of romance, betrayal or intrigue, just take a visit to The Knoxville Zoo. "There's plenty of drama here every day," says Lisa New, Director of Animals. "Soap operas are something to get away from life. But, we've got (a soap opera) going on here every day in every exhibit." If you go to the Knoxville Zoo, you'll and hear about star-crossed lovers, deception, and renewed relationships. And that's just in the penguin exhibit!

Gypsy & Chaz
In the wild, penguins are pair-bonded for life. But life inside an enclosed exhibit mixes up the monogamy.
Zoo officials had hoped to pair single gal Gypsy with a male named Meg, but that wasn't meant to be.
"Penguins have a mind of their own and hearts of their own," says Lisa New. "Gypsy decided she wasn't interested in Meg, she was interested in Chaz."

The only problem: Chaz already had a mate, named Iggy. Soon the penguin exhibit was reading like a romance novel. "Gypsy continued to go after Chaz and actually had battles out with Iggy, until she won Chaz."
But, all was not lost for poor Iggy. "Iggy actually took up with Meg, so essentially the jilted lovers are now together."

Though the love triangle is fun to gossip about, the work zoo officials do to protect the penguin population is very serious. "Penguins are a threatened species," says New. "All penguin species are in trouble, so having them breed and have an active program in zoos is a very important conservation measure."

Today, Gypsy & Chaz and Meg & Iggy can be seen together in the Zoo's penguin exhibit. Still, Gypsy might want to look over her flipper for other potential rivals.
"I don't think they should ever be too comfortable, the way it goes in there." jokes New.

The Knoxville Zoo has plenty of romance stories to share with visitors. But behind-the-scenes, the zoo staff watch with great anticipation on what the animals will do next. "Sometimes it's heartbreaking, because the animal you want to be the favored choice of the mate may not be the one the animals wants," says New. "We have to learn that they're the ones running the show, and we're just trying to help facilitate those programs." And it's the almost-human-like qualities and tender moments the animals share that really have the staffers hooked. "When you have animals that are getting along, or you see Jimbo being a tender father and playing with him (George) or giving pats and hugs, that's what it's all about."

The Knoxville Zoo is open 364 days of the year (closed Christmas). Through February, visitors can enjoy the Knoxville Zoo's Penguin Discount Days, which offers half-priced admission. For more information visit


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