Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Checkers the Penguin visits New Providence Library

NEW PROVIDENCE — Checkers, an African Penguin, visited the library here on Monday, July 15.
Her keepers from Jenkinson’s Aquarium at Point Pleasant Beach, Carlo DiMicco and Joanna Colligan, brought Checkers to the library so children could learn all about penguins.

The meeting room was packed with kids anxious to see the bird who was in a dog carrier, safely tucked under a table. Colligan asked the children what they knew about penguins and they were surprisingly well-informed. They knew many lived in the Antarctica, that they are flightless birds who eat fish and lay eggs. They also knew that penquins are good swimmers and that leopard seals like to eat them.

What they didn’t know is that the equator is called the “imaginary penguin pen” by people who study penguins because “penguins are only found in the wild on or below the equator,” said Colligan. That’s why people don’t see penguins in the Arctic and why polar bears don’t eat them. “They don’t know they exist,” said Colligan.

After the lesson, DiMicco took Checkers carefully out of her crate and held her in his arm, a bit like he would hold a football. From time to time the penguin would stretch her wings and yawn, but he couldn’t get her to talk. Asked what this type of penguin sounds like, he said, “A donkey.” He went on to explain that the penguins do seem to sing to each other, but not songs. That’s how Emperor Penguins find their mates, he said; their songs apparently have to mesh and, when they mate, they are as good as married.

Checkers, who is 18, was born in Jenkinson’s and, like all the penguins at the aquarium, she wears a bracelet around the top of her wing. It has beads on it and, by looking at the beads and their colors, the keepers know the name of the penguin they are looking at, as well as whether it is male or female and who its mother and father are, DiMicco said. Without the beads, they would never know if the bird was a boy or girl; they have to take blood to find that out, he said.

As he talked about Checkers, he walked back and forth holding her, posed for photos and let the children see her, but not touch her.

When all the questions were answered, he asked the children to say a very quiet “good bye, Checkers,” then he put Checkers carefully back into her crate and it was time for her to go back to the aquarium.

This wasn't the first library visit for a penguin from Jenkinson’s. Last July, aquarium staff brought a different penguin, Saba, for a visit.


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