Monday, July 21, 2014

Checkers the penguin struts her stuff at Staten Island Zoo (with video, photo gallery)

Checkers the African Penquin is getting the once over from the kids during the presentation at the Staten Island Zoo auditorium. (Staten Island Advance/Hilton Flores) Hilton Flores

By Virginia N. Sherry
July 21, 2014

Checkers the African penguin puts on a show at the Staten Island Zoo

A waddling female penguin named Checkers charmed animal-loving children and adults at the Staten Island Zoo Sunday afternoon. Hatched 19 years ago, the short little aquatic bird starred in educational presentations in the Zoo's auditorium, focused on penguin biology, geography, and behavior, courtesy of Jenkinson's Aquarium Penguin Habitat in Point Pleasant, N.J.

Laura Graziano, a curator at the Aquarium who handled Checkers and delivered the informative presentations, urged the audience to be as quiet as possible. "Penguins have excellent hearing, better than ours," she said.

In introducing Checkers, she explained that her breed, the African penguin, is native to South Africa, where temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, dispelling the commonly held assumptions that penguins thrive only in frigid climates.

Another fact: "All wild penguins live in environments at the bottom half of the world, south of the Equator," Ms. Graziano explained. None inhabit the Arctic, Alaska or the northern reaches of Canada. "Polar bears and penguins never see each other in the wild," she commented. Most penguins live in Antarctica, and others in places such as Australia and South American, she said.

The audience also learned that penguins are birds that do not fly, and use their small wings as flippers, for swimming. Penguins do not have teeth, and swallow their food -- fish and shrimp -- whole because the birds cannot chew. Penguin feathers are "very tiny," Ms. Graziano added, providing both warmth and water proofing.

A last fact: "Penguins grow very big very fast, and reach full size in three or four months. The smallest breed of penguins weights one to two pounds, and the largest about 90 pounds," the curator said.

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