Monday, February 9, 2015

Akron Zoo's Humboldt #penguins; they just don't like the cold

Akron Zoo penguins are not fans of Ohio's winter either, says zookeeper Vicky Croisant. (Produced by Dan Kane)

Akron Zoo's hot draw: The Humboldt penguins. They just don't like the cold The Akron Zoo had its second-highest attendance ever in 2014 with 367,305 visitors. The record was set in 2013 with 389,506. Here’s a myth buster: The Akron Zoo’s penguin population is no more excited about this freezing Ohio winter than you are.

Forget that pervasive image of penguins happily dancing around on polar ice floes. “More penguin species come from Australia, Africa and South America than from Antarctica,” senior zookeeper Vicky Croisant said.

The Akron Zoo’s 16 penguins are Humboldts, native to the warm climates of Chile and Peru. “They tolerate this weather like people do,” Croisant said. On an afternoon when it was sunny and 23 degrees, only four penguins had chosen to venture outside. “This is cold for them, and it’s also breeding season. Some are (indoors) sitting on eggs.”

And yet, there was some lively swimming happening in the outdoor pool at the zoo’s popular penguin exhibit, where the water is heated to 55 to 60 degrees.


The zoo had its second-highest attendance ever in 2014 with 367,305 visitors. The record was set in 2013 with 389,506. The penguins, located just inside the zoo’s entrance, are the most popular attraction, according to marketing director David Barnhardt. “This is the only place in Northeast Ohio to see penguins,” he said.

During the frigid polar vortex of 2014, the zoo’s penguins were kept inside. “We have to be careful,” Croisant said. “The penguins have bare skin around their faces and bare feet. When they’re wet and it’s windy, they’re vulnerable like people.”

Croisant speaks with an almost parental fondness for the penguins. “I have a couple who are my buddies. They follow me around,” she said. “They each have a personality, and they have good days and bad days. If they’re having a bad day, they’ll let you know. They bite.”

She points out a bin of penguin toys — plastic bowling pings, rings, dive sticks — that could be mistaken for a human toddler’s collection. “They like Frisbees, they like looking at themselves in mirrors,” Croisant said.

Most of the zoo’s eight male and 10 female penguins have Spanish names, appropriate to their South American roots. The youngest one — named Bisnieto, Spanish for “great grandson” — will be 2 in June. The oldest, one of two elderly females kept indoors, will be 32 in April. “A lot are in their teens and early 20s,” she said about the penguins, whose life expectancy in a zoo setting is typically 25 to 30 years.


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