The Milwaukee County Zoo is celebrating some of the Zoo’s favorite residents this Saturday for World Penguin Day. The Zoo is home to three different species of penguins; Humboldt Penguins, which are the first exhibit that visitors see when entering the Zoo, and in the Aviary there are Gentoo Penguins and Rockhopper Penguins in an Arctic exhibit.
“We are telling people to come and draw attention to these guys and their plight in the wild, you know we need to conserve them. We invite people to wear black and white, just like our penguins do. The first 100 people that come in and have black and white on will get a plush little penguin toy, so again it just kind of highlights the need to conserve these animals,” says Jennifer Diliberti, the Zoo’s Public Relations Coordinator.
Humboldt Penguins are endangered, facing issues like climate change, oil spills, over fishing of their food supply and unregulated guano harvesting – the penguins actually nest in the guano and people originally were harvesting all of the guano, where as now it’s regulated to where the penguins will still have nesting material. The Gentoo Penguin species are near-threatened and the Rockhopper penguin species is venerable.
The activities and events will take place in front of the penguin exhibits so that people will be able to observe the penguins while celebrating them. There will be keepers on hand at the exhibits as well doing talks about penguins, answering questions and providing insight to these fascinating animals. Visitors can see purchase pink strawberry milkshakes, which look exactly like the hand rearing formula that the keepers use to feed baby penguins. The proceeds from the pink milkshakes go to benefit the Humboldt Penguin Conservation Fund in connection with the Zoological Society.
“The kids can learn how great their feathers and blubber are and how they keep them warm. There will be great interactive demonstrations for kids. They’ll also see how sometimes zookeepers have to step in and hand rear a penguin. So we have dummy eggs that the keepers use when they have to step in and hand raise a chick,” says Diliberti.
According to Heather Neldner, one of the keepers in charge of caring for the Humboldt Penguins, there are many different factors in which the keepers would need to step in and hand raise the a penguin.
“Certain parents can’t raise their own chicks; we had two Gentoo Penguins that we ended up raising this last year, because the mom didn’t have a mate. So somebody had a little fling with her and she had some eggs, but she can’t raise chicks on her own. There’s no way she can provide enough food and keep them warm and do all the things she needs to do to keep her babies safe, happy and healthy,” says Neldner.
Visitors can also donate to the conservations efforts of penguins through Pennies for Penguins, which will be a special jug that people can toss coins into, the Zoo will display x-rays from penguins that swallowed coins that were tossed into their exhibit and educate guests on the dangers of “making a wish” in the animals exhibit. The proceeds from Pennies for Penguins will go towards the Punta San Juan reserve in Peru. They will also be selling penguin paintings, which are made by some of the Zoo’s more artistic penguins.
“We have a couple penguins that like to paint, not all of them like to, we lay out canvases on the floor and we have a little thing where they can get paint on their feet and they walk through the paint to make these fun little paintings,” says Neldner.
The Milwaukee County Zoo’s penguins have been a long standing favorite since their exhibits were put in. The Humboldt Penguin exhibit was created in 1988 and the indoor Arctic penguin exhibit, which originally was home to King Penguins, debuted in 1960’s when the Zoo relocated from Washington Park.
World Penguin Day takes place Saturday April 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Milwaukee County Zoo is located at 10001 West Bluemound Road Milwaukee, WI 53226. They are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., admission for adults is $14.25, seniors ages 60 and over are $13.25, children ages 3 to 12 are $11.25 and children ages 2 and under are free.