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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Zoo History: Penguins on Parade

The walk-through aviary is one of the classic archetypes of zoo exhibition, with almost every zoo or aquarium featuring at least one example of this habitat.  Visitors (except those that are morbidly terrified of flying birds... of which there are a surprising number) greatly enjoy the chance to enter the habitat of zoo birds.  At some facilities, the situation is reversed, however.  There, the birds are given a chance to talk a walk among the humans.

Almost since the zoo first opened its gates, penguins have been the pride of the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland.  In January of 1914, a half-dozen of the flightless seabirds arrived from South Georgia, complements of a whaling expedition, becoming the first penguins seen in a zoological park.  One great first follows another, and within five years the zoo was celebrating the first hatch of a king penguin, incidentally also the first penguin hatched above the equator.  This was followed years later with the first hatch of a macaroni penguin, and later a gentoo.

With such a bustling penguin family, it's no wonder that keepers might have felt a little overworked and absent-minded (as keepers can sometimes be).  In 1951, a zookeeper mistakenly left the gate to the penguin exhibit open, and the birds began to march out of the exhibit.  Fortunately, escape proved to be fairly far from their collective mind, and instead of making a very-slow-run for the exits, they instead found their keeper and trooped behind him in a single-file line.

Today, watching the Penguin Parade is the highlight of any visit to the Edinburgh Zoo.  It provides an exciting opportunity for visitors to get closer than they ever would otherwise to some very charismatic birds, while at the same time providing exercise and enrichment to the penguins themselves.  If you think about it, it's sort of like a trip to the zoo for the birds, allowing them to file past the other animals, curiously inspecting them as they go.

Oh, you love penguins but don't think you'll be making it out to Scotland any time soon?  Don't worry about it.  An increasing number of zoos around the world are duplicating Edinburgh's Penguin Parade; never having been to Edinburgh myself, the picture on this article comes from Kentucky's Newport Aquarium.  Other facilities have tried it with flamingos or cranes.

And if first-exhibitions, first-hatchings, AND the Penguin Parade weren't enough to put Edinburgh on the map, penguin-wise, there's more.  The zoo also is the home of the famous Brigadier General Sir Nils Olav.  What does a general have to do with penguins.  Simple - he IS a penguin (I know, it sounds weird, but it's all explained here).

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