Sunday, May 12, 2013

Zoo penguin team to use spycam to capture hatching

A real Rockhopper penguin investigates the imposter Rockhopper cam. Picture: John Downer Productions A real Rockhopper penguin investigates the imposter Rockhopper cam. Picture: John Downer Productions

PENGUIN keepers at Edinburgh Zoo have revealed they’re hoping to catch close-up footage of a hatching egg this weekend thanks to two robo-penguins and spycams which will stream the live action to screens in a visitors’ hut.

They have hooked up with the production team behind the BBC’s acclaimed Spy in the Huddle documentary, which filmed wild penguins using cameras hidden in robotic birds, fake eggs and rocks.
The team will record the Edinburgh penguins in their enclosures tomorrow providing a bird’s eye view of the famous Penguin Parade when the Rockhopper Cameras, animatronics filming devices, join the creatures on their daily walk.

But the birds’ senior keeper has warned the penguins’ curious and cheeky nature might pose a few problems for the team.

Nick Dowling, senior keeper of birds, said: “Penguins are very curious and I suspect they will go over and have a wee nibble when they see the Rockhopper Cameras.

“A lot of the young Rockhoppers are quite mischievous, and I think they may go and try and push them over or climb on them.”

“There’s also a male Gentoo penguin who’s just become a dad for the first time and he’s very protective, always chasing people away. So it will be interesting to see how he reacts. But our keepers will be there to make sure the penguins are happy.”

Mr Dowling said there are 42 Gentoo eggs in nests at the zoo, including several due to hatch this weekend. A number of cameras disguised as rocks and eggs will be placed close to those most likely to hatch in the hope they will capture a chick emerging from at least one of them.

“That would be very special to see,” said the keeper, who has worked with penguins for more than eight years.

He added he is particularly keen to witness the parade from the viewpoint of a penguin. “The parade began in 1951, but this will be the first time anyone will get to see what it’s like for the penguins.”

The John Downer Production team spent nearly a year in the close company of penguins to make Spy in the Huddle. It was the first documentary series to use animatronic spycams to infiltrate penguin colonies in the wild – from emperor penguins in Antarctica, Rockhopper penguins on the Falkland Islands and Humboldt penguins in the Atacama Desert. The footage has been seen as instrumental in further understanding penguin behaviour.

Philip Dalton, the documentary’s producer, said: “Thanks to the penguin cams the series proved a great success and has brought the birds’ incredible lives and personalities into the living rooms of millions.”


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