Paint with penguins at Children's Zoo in Saginaw
SAGINAW, MI — A joyful Petey brayed in the wind, happily leaving her mark on a canvas outside the African penguin compound at the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square.
Anyone hearing the penguin’s call would understand why they’re also known as jackass penguins, but on this sunny fall afternoon, Petey and her sister Scooter more resembled Picasso and Pollack.
With 5-year-old Alex Jaffe from Saginaw Township nearby, the feathered sisters took turns walking across a tray of blue and red paint and happily making colorful footprints.
Watching from the gate were brother-and-sister Chilly and Willy, and Don and Dewey, eager to get their feet wet, too.
“This really started as a medicinal thing,” said the penguins' keeper, Katy Kipfmiller. “Penguins get this fungus called bumble foot and we let them walk through a cool, wet tray of medicine to help heal their sores.”
Because Kipfmiller has a creative mind, said Zoo Director Nancy Parker, she came up with the idea of letting the penguins do the same with paint.
“She said, ‘I think we can do this,’ and the penguins loved it,” Parker said.
The one-of-a-kind artwork sells for $50 in the zoo’s gift shop.
For $100, a youngster, accompanied by an adult, can go into the compound and paint with the penguins, adding hand-prints and embellishments to the resulting work, theirs to keep.
It’s a great Christmas present, the shaky prints catching the penguins’ unbridled joy, though, being warm-weather penguins, they can only do it when the temperatures are at least 45 degrees.
Sessions given as Christmas gifts would be scheduled in the spring, Parker said.
“People always think of penguins as being at home in the ice and snow,” Kipfmiller said. “But this would be like bringing a lion into the cold. It just isn’t right.”
“This is the ultimate cool time; they’re doing good, and they’re getting attention. They’re loving it.” — Katy Kipfmiller, penguin keeperAlex was a little shy at first, venturing to pet the penguins but leaving it to Kipfmiller and intern Kyle Sajdak to direct their artistic efforts.
Eight-year-old twins Molly and Anna, hanging back with mother Jennifer Jaffe, had plenty of questions, though.
“Oh my goodness,” Anna said, watching the blue and red footprints blend into purple.
“How can you tell the penguins apart?”
African penguins have a mark like a coconut on their tummies, Kipfmiller explained, that’s as individual as a thumbprint, “but we have different color tags that tell us which is which,” she added.
“Are there any baby penguins?” they asked.
The six in Saginaw, one male and five females, are 10 to 11 years old, and they can’t have babies together “because Chilly and Willy are the ones who like each other the most, but they’re brother and sister,” Kipfmiller said.
The penguins, also known as blackfoot penguins, are in the survival breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, as are the cotton-top tamarin monkeys, Parker said.
“But all of our penguins are related, so we would need to bring in more penguins to have babies,” she said.
A plump little Petey, who went from 6 to 12 pounds in four days in preparation for molting, responded to a little encouragement from Alex, shivering in delight when he told her, “Good girl!”
“She’s like, ‘I’m doing it; I’m like totally standing in paint,’” Kipfmiller said, falling in to Valley talk as Scooter tried to slip through the gate.
But Petey wasn’t going to leave Alex’s side.
“It looks like you have a friend,” Kipfmiller said. “This is the ultimate cool time; they’re doing good, and they’re getting attention. They’re loving it.”
To arrange a private painting session, call the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, 1730 S. Washington in Saginaw, at 989-759-1408 .