Tuesday, January 15, 2013

March of the penguins: The Calgary Zoo’s first public penguin walk a bemusing success

Jen Gerson | Last Updated: Jan 15, 2013
Jen Gerson / National Post The Calgary Zoo's eight King Penguins went on their first public walk outside their enclosure on Monday. About 100 kids and their minders lined up to watch the creatures, who followed the zoo keepers quite tamely. It probably didn't hurt that the zoo keeper was carrying a silver bucket filled with fish.

Everybody loves penguins. The Calgary Zoo brought the creatures in just over a year ago, and they have become one of the zoo’s most popular exhibits. Now, zookeepers are hosting a penguin walk — eight king penguins freed from their enclosure to stroll among visitors on the grounds three times per week. The zoo’s Trish Exton-Parder said that in test runs, the penguins “really enjoy what they’re doing.” The Post’s Jen Gerson was on hand as the zoo held its first public walk on Monday morning.
10:45 The penguins are lined up just inside their enclosure, while a dozen young children stick their heads over the gates and make inexplicable cawing noises.
10:46 The penguins do not caw back.
10:47 “Daddy, can we go to the gift shop?”
“No, we cannot go to the gift shop. Then you’ll miss the penguin walk.
‘‘John, do not eat snow. No. I’ve told you people can get very sick eating snow.
“Do you think I haven’t noticed you throwing snowballs at the back of my jacket?”
10:48 “My hands are cold.”
“Where are your gloves?”
“I forgot to bring them.”
10:49 A penguin squawks.
10:49:30 The children DO squawk back.
10:50 Zoo volunteers hustle the assembled children, parents and field-trip supervisors behind a set of flimsy plastic white hustings. The barriers do little to contain a small army of excited five- and six-year-olds who missed their morning snack due to a late bus and now have to wait 10 whole minutes in the cold for the birds to come out. The barriers begin to inch closer into the path of the soon-to-be oncoming penguins.
Jen Gerson / National PostThe Calgary Zoo's eight King Penguins went on their first public walk 
outside their enclosure Monday.
11:00 “Mommy, they’re bringing the penguins out!” cries Ariel Rodda, a six-year-old in a pink jacket and cartoon cat toque.
Yes, but the birds move slowly. Zookeepers open the gates and the penguins begin a slow waddle along the path toward the dinosaur enclosure, an area which Ariel assures her mother does not frighten her in the least. I believe her.
11:05 Volunteers keep the king penguins in check with a silver bucket labelled “Fish Only” and green and red signs. They aren’t fed on the walk — the mere promise of fish seems to keep the creatures in near-perfect formation, although one veers close to the crowd, wings flapping for a moment.
Jen Gerson / National Post About 100 kids and their minders lined up to watch the penguins, who 
followed the zoo keepers quite tamely.
11:06 Ms. Exton-Parder says king penguins “have very sharp beaks so we do have to take precautions.” The birds, though, aren’t known for their predatory or violent behaviour. “There’s no real danger,” she says. “If there were, we wouldn’t be doing this.”
11:07 One of the zookeepers says king penguins are known to walk 30 kilometres in a day in the wild. Short jaunts like this will help to keep the pampered birds in shape, as they pack on the pounds rather easily. The follow-the-leader-like game mimics the way the animals react in the wild (especially if someone were to walk in front of them with a bucket full of fish).
11:08 The zookeeper says the penguins love Calgary’s climate. “They’re settling in very well. They love this weather more than I do.”
Ted Rhodes /Postmedia NewsThe king penguins get out for a stroll around the Calgary Zoo on the 
first Penguin Walk for the public. The ever popular penguins will be marching a 15 minute loop 
around their Penguin Plunge area every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 11am this winter.
The penguin walks will be held when the temperature is between a comfortable -25C and 10C (it’s currently -10C and snowy). If, on occasion, the birds prove intractable, they won’t be forced to waddle. “If they decide they don’t want to go out, they won’t. There’s no pressure,” she says. They’re in charge here, although the guy with the bucket of fish is clearly influential.
11:13 The penguins pass the crowd of excited and pointing children with little fuss beyond some flapping and a few caws. They look almost bemused by the attention, or maybe their beaks are just shaped that way.
11:14 Ariel feels “good” seeing the birds. The walk was “new,” she adds. “They didn’t do that before.”
11:15 Her mother points out the penguins are very similar to the characters in the movie Happy Feet. This wins a smile from Ariel, who then retreats behind her mother.
11:16 The penguins retreat to their enclosure. ’Cause that’s where the fish are.
Ted Rhodes /Postmedia NewsThe king penguins get out for a stroll around the Calgary Zoo on the 
first Penguin Walk for the public.
National Post

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