Friday, June 12, 2015

Binghamton Zoo lets you pal around with penguins

Andrew Thayer

Zookeepers lead the way to interactive encounters

A group of African penguins swarmed around zookeeper Stephanie Radzik’s legs during a feeding Friday morning, turning their collective noses up at the herring being offered to them.

They held out for the smaller capelin fish, which they eagerly snapped up. “They get to be a little picky because they are in captivity,” Radzik, who works for the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park, said with a smile. “I’m not sure they would turn herring down in the wild.”

Visitors interested in the feeding, habits and general antics of the zoo’s seven penguins are in luck, zoo officials said during a news conference Friday. During a daily spotlight at 3 p.m., guests can watch as zookeepers feed the penguins and share information about them.

Penguin fans can also pay for a special Wild Encounters program: an immersive experience where a group of up to four guests can spend an hour up close and personal with the birds. For $100, they can enter the penguin habitat, play with them and even pose for a photo — all with a zookeeper on hand to share inside information about the animals. “We have gotten a phenomenal reaction,” said Rachael Davenport, zoo development and public relations coordinator. “People just love the fact that they can play with a penguin.”

On Friday, the zoo’s seven penguins tended to stick together, moving in a small pack from their swimming hole, to the sun, and then back into the water. Officials said the oldest of the group, Nat, arrived at the Binghamton Zoo in 1999 and is believed to be 16 or 17 years old. Petey, the youngest, is only 5 years old. Adasha is the only female in the group, marked by a small colored tag on her left wing rather than the right.

On any given day, the penguins wake up and take a dip in their pool, eat a combination of herring, capelin and smelt for breakfast and then lounge in the sun until their second and final meal in the afternoon, Radzik said. Stuffed inside the fish are multivitamins and salt tabs, which simulate the intake of salt water that penguins ingest in the wild but not in captivity.

Another bit of insider African penguin trivia: In the winter, the penguins stay indoors, where small heated pools help keep them warm.


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