Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Pierre the Penguin"

"Pierre the Penguin" - a story with a happy ending

By Crosscurrents Producer

Once upon a time, there was an African penguin called Pierre. He lived at the California Academy of Sciences where he had lots of friends and a girlfriend even. BUT one day his feathers started to fall out.

Penguins lose their feathers every year, and then they grow newer, stronger ones -- it's called molting. But Pierre's feathers didn't grow back. The scientists at the Academy collaborated with author Jean Marzolo and illustrator Laura Regan to create a children's book based on Pierre. It's called "Pierre the Penguin" and it came out last month. KALW's Roisin Hunt brings us the rest of Pierre's mysterious story.
LAURA REGAN: This is the story of Pierre, a small penguin in a big museum. It's also about the people at the California Academy of Sciences who worked together to help him through a hard time.
ROISIN HUNT: And so begins the story of "Pierre the Penguin," read here by illustrator Laura Regan.

She tells us what happens next.

REGAN: One day aquatic biologist Pam, observing the penguins saw one in a jam.

Pierre's human friend Pam Schaller was a scientist and she was the first to notice that something was wrong.

PAM SCHALLER: The story, itself was for me, was a very difficult time in terms of observing that something was really going wrong with a bird.
 REGAN: Gently, gently she examined Pierre, his feathers were gone, his bottom was bare.
SCHALLER: And the feathers began to become brittle and break and form these big bald patches. That was so concerning to me that I tried everything possible, bringing in the veterinarian, trying to find was it something with his skin, was it something with his feathers, was it something hormonal.  And there was no conclusive results with all the testing that we did. And I just watched this bird go balder and balder and get colder and colder.
REGAN: Pierre was afraid to go for a swim, he'd get too cold if he dived right in.

Then the other penguins started picking on Pierre. Pam Schaller, explains that penguins use head markings to identify each other. But without his feathers, Pierre's friends didn't recognize him anymore.

SCHALLER: And penguins are very protective of their environment because that is where they have offspring and where they are the safest and they try to keep any animal they don't recognize away from there. But eventually I think it became a misunderstanding of what kind of animal Pierre was to them.

So the other penguins started pecking at Pierre's body, and ostracizing him from the group. No one at the Academy knew what to do to help poor Pierre...until...

REGAN: One rainy day biologist Pam, came up with an idea, SHAZZAM! My dog wears a raincoat she told the vet, could Pierre wear a wetsuit? The vet said you bet!
SCHALLER: Pierre ended up getting a wetsuit, a neoprene wetsuit. It started at his neck and went down to his midsection. So basically it was a wetsuit vest for him with velcro on the back. And that helped him to maintain his body temperature. After wearing that for 6 weeks in a row he ended up growing his feathers back and since then has grown his feathers back.

Schaller appreciates that Pierre's story is now available to kids visiting the academy. She thinks it carries an important message.

SCHALLER: It was recognizing that there was a problem, which I think is a great lesson for children to be able to recognize in their environment what is usual and what is unusual, or what's a little bit different. I think those lessons are great lessons to be taught.

Schaller has learnt a thing or two herself from Pierre.

SCHALLER: I think mostly what Pierre has taught me is that to look for alternative solutions and to not give up on the first try when something doesn't work.

Now warm in water and warm on shore, guess who didn't need his wetsuit anymore?
In San Francisco, I'm Roisin Hunt for Crosscurrents. THE END.

Pierre's wetsuit now lives in a case beside the African Penguin exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. But you don't have to go there to catch a glimpse of Pierre--the Academy has set up a "penguin cam" where you can see Pierre live in action from the comfort of your own computer.


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