Thursday, July 3, 2014

Four visiting penguins bring smiles, cheer and endangerment awareness to Mobile

Mooshu, an African black-footed penguin, stands in the Penguin Planet Exhibit at the Gulf Coast Exploreum in Mobile, Ala., on July 2, 2014. His mate, Cranberry, is at left. The exhibit opens on July 4 and runs through January 3. (Sharon Steinmann)

By Cassie Fambro
on July 02, 2014 

MOBILE, Alabama-- The Gulf Coast Exploreum gained four new feathery friends on Monday who will make the museum their home until January. Mooshu, Cranberry, Ninja and Jelly are south African penguins that typically live at the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, Florida and were brought to Mobile in order to educate people about the birds.

These penguins do not require cold temperatures like many may expect. In fact, there are 17 difference species of penguins and half are native to warmer weather climates including south Africa and Australia.
They thermoregulate, or control their body temperature, with the pink areas around their eyes. The indoor habitat they live in has man-made rock structures, ramps and plenty of water to dive in as well as one hut per penguin.

All four penguins are paired off, as penguins mate for life. Mooshu is mated to Cranberry, and Ninja with Jelly. There is some speculation that one of the females may be nesting. They range in age from four to 9 years, according to Stefanie Link, a Gulfarium caretaker that has accompanied the penguins on their journey to Mobile. "In this environment, they can live to be 30, but in the ocean it's only until their mid-teens," said Link.

The endangered birds are at risk due to people. "The biggest thing is that people are stealing guano," she said. Guano, which is penguin excrement, has been called "white gold" because of its fertilizing benefits.
Without guano to nest in, penguins are forced to make nests out in the open, according to National Georgraphic. That exposes them more to the elements. Exploreum director of animal husbandry Mollie Shiffer said that the penguins are dying in south Africa at a rate of 90 per week. "We hope this exhibit gets the word out," she said.

There's even a website where people can donate and buy south African penguins premade huts that will serve as shelters, even without the abundant guano they once had. The Dyer Island Trust is just one place hoping to save the penguins. Even with the very real issue at hand, the four critters are already bringing smiles to many faces at the Exploreum.

The penguins won't be walking around the Hands On display any time soon, but the museum is planning a VIP experience that will let people get closer to the penguins and possibly even blow bubbles toward them as part of an enrichment exercise. "There will be no petting or holding by the general public for their health and safety," Shiffer said.

The penguin handlers will oversee the penguins day-in-and-day-out at the Exploreum and complete enrichment exercises often with the penguins, she said. The Exploreum has set up a box of seats that will be where people can view the penguins in their habitat and hear one of the penguin caretakers speak about the south African penguins' habits as well as their plight in their native land.

It will cost regular admittance to get into the museum and visit the penguins beginning Friday, July 4.
Mooshu, Cranberry, Ninja and Jelly will be happy to see you at Penguin Planet.


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