While the long-awaited opening to the public isn’t until Friday, those with exclusive “Inspire” and “Engage” memberships were thrilled with their early peek, all-but brief and tightly controlled.
“The penguins are very cute. They really look like they’re having fun in there, jumping into the water, being busy,” said Nicole Ahmed with her husband Ali and daughter Leyla, 2.
“And the exhibit is very impressive. It’s like you’re in an igloo, . . . it’s like the Arctic.”
Kenda Brunner, along with her two-year-old daughter Olivia, agreed: “Everything looks very clean . . . and the penguins look great, very happy.”
Zoo officials said Tuesday that while the sneak preview is one of many privileges zoo members are offered for their continued loyalty, zoo keepers explained that allowing only a few people initially is a healthier way to introduce the penguins to public viewing.
Visitors this week are being asked not to linger too long, keeping crowds moving through at a brisk pace.
“This is a good way to make sure the penguins are adjusting to everything well,” said Jamie Dorgan, an animal care manager. “We want to keep their stress levels low, keep an eye on their food consumption and make sure they’re interacting with each other in a normal way.
“So far that’s what we’re seeing,” Dorgan said.
Inside the $25-million polar-like exhibit, visitors are introduced to 46 penguins playing among rocky outcroppings, plunging into a spacious pool and popping out of holes in the ice. Natural ice and rock formations combine with flickering lights to simulate the aurora australis.
Quality of care is also a critical part of the exhibit, with dedicated water and air quality management systems to mimic the penguins’ normal environmental requirements.
Among the 46 penguins are four different species: Humboldt, gentoo, rockhopper and king.
Friday’s grand opening will begin with a 10 a.m. media event, followed by an 11 a.m. public unveiling.
Several special activities are planned for visitors.
Zoo officials hope interest in the exhibit — strategically placed near the zoo’s north entrance so it’s the first and last thing visitors see — will spark an increased public commitment toward conservation efforts.
Excessive rates of extinction, shrinking habitats and climate change are all having an impact on penguins.
Three of the four species represented at the zoo, including the gentoo, the rockhopper and the Humboldt, are either threatened or facing a population decline.