Zoo launches fund drive for new exhibit: Humboldt penguins
Executive director John Chapo said Thursday the zoo has been approved to get four to six breeding pairs of Humboldt penguins.
First, it needs to raise enough money to remodel the 45,000-gallon freshwater seal pool into penguin habitat.
"Because of our exemplary record of successfully breeding endangered animals ... the leaders of the Humboldt Penguin Species Survival Plan not only approved us to acquire penguins, but instilled an enormous amount of trust in allowing us to acquire the rarest penguin species on Earth," Chapo said in a news release.
The Lincoln zoo is one of 16 in the U.S. chosen to care for the penguins.
Fewer than 25,000 Humboldt penguins live in the wild. Found along the western coast of
Two hundred ninety-two Humboldt penguins live in U.S. zoos, the closest in Wichita, Kan., Chapo said.
Chapo and Jennifer Strand, chairwoman of the zoo's board of directors, say hope the penguins will fill the place in zoo-gers' hearts left by the departure of the harbor seals, the zoo's marquee attraction for the past 20 years.
Toney, the last harbor seal at the zoo, is headed to the
"We have to fill that void," Chapo told the Lancaster County Board at its staff meeting Thursday. "The seals played a very vital role in connecting kids to the zoo."
Chapo and Strand asked county commissioners to approve a $150,000 grant from the Visitors Promotion Fund to help pay for remodeling the seal pool area in the center of the zoo. So far, the zoo has raised $50,000 in private donations.
The total cost of the projct is estimated at $300,000, but the zoo would like to raise more to fund an endowment.
"Building a completely new exhibit and pool from the ground up would cost nearly $2 million," Chapo said. "We felt it was more prudent to utilize the current infrastructure of the seal pool in order to reduce exhibit expenses and make this dream of bringing penguins to Lincoln a reality."
The project would include expanding the public viewing area, building an enclosure for the penguins with a large room for educational opportunities, creating a rocky beach for the penguins and painting a large mural with an image of the ocean off the coast of Chile.
Chapo said the project is on a fast track because, to get the penguins for this summer, they need to start construction by April 1.
Without the penguins, zoo officials fear a lackluster membership and attendance season. Last year, the zoo attracted 170,000 visitors, Chapo said.
The Lancaster County Board voted to refer the grant fund to the committee that oversees the Visitors Promotion Fund, with a recommendation it hold an emergency meeting.
The project received enthusiastic support from the three commissioners at the staff meeting.
"We need to find a way to do this," said Commissioner Larry Hudkins.
The zoo won't have to provide saltwater habitat for the Humboldt penguins, Chapo said, because, unlike harbor seals, they spend about 90 percent of their life on land. The lack of salt water was a key reason for Toney's departure.
County Commissioner Deb Schorr asked if the zoo plans to name the penguins.
Chapo said each will have a color-coded band, and, he said, a name-the-penguins contest is a strong possibility.
He told commissioners the Humboldt penguins already have a nickname -- laughing jackasses.
"For a little bird, they got a big voice," Chapo said.