The weekend before last, I celebrated my birthday up north at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. According to my research its the closest zoo that offers penguin experiences/encounters. (And just $45 for a cheek to beak experience). I’d already lost my heart at one experience with Busch/Seaworld, but I wanted to see the penguins at one of the newest/most advance penguin facilities. They can host up to 100 penguins, and have one of the most successful breeding colonies in North America. They’ve been able to raise over 900 penguins since 1967! (Plus hubby has family in Maryland)
***Disclaimer*** Not all penguin experiences are the same. Some seem to be more conservative in which the trainer holds the penguin and you are allowed to pet it with two fingers on its back. Other experiences allow the animals to walk around and you to interact more freely with them. Whichever experience you get, remember that the safety of the animals is #1 and you are lucky enough to interact with an endangered exotic (amazing) animal.
We got to the zoo upon opening, lingering in the warm gift shop as it was windy. I may have been canoodling with a penguin who threatened to fly away in the breeze. The zoo opened at 10am, but our experience wasn’t until 11am.
We explored around the Penguin Coast, watching the penguin feeding, and saw the Polar Bear eating snacks.
Finally, the time came. Another couple was waiting and we chatted about the upcoming experience. In my normal over thinking thing I’d mused to hubby “what if I see them and I don’t like them any more?” (as I have a tendency to be zealous about things and then abruptly not) Hubby stared at me and rolled his eyes.
We were led into the area by the keeper, Steven. He showed us the small kitchen, where he explained the food prep process and that penguins can eat up to a 1 lb of fish a day. I was jittering with excitement and I’m sure I squealed when he said that we’d be meeting 7! (In my last encounter I just saw 1 walking around!)
Then, we entered a small room. At this point we were told not to touch them, but that they’d wander up to us. We were given a plastic pool tie type device to play with them (picture a sort of cat toy). They waddled around all seven of them: Winnie, Peach, Hope, Lilly, Eddie, Dawn, and Tetra. I was in heaven. Fiddling around with the plastic toy I discovered that some of them would respond like cats playing, and once I even spun one in a complete circle chasing it! Steven also answered various questions about his waddle of penguins. Of course, I always think of a bazillion questions later.
After a few moments we were ushered to an outside area, now we were allowed to pet the penguins if they came up to us. Cue the most magical time of my life! Most of the time the penguins would stay in a group, leaving 5 of them huddled around you (Two were excluded as they are continuing to train on being nice to people). I was consumed with petting them, sometimes a penguin for each hand. I continued to play with the plastic tie with them.
Husband was just as enthralled, practicing talking to them, finding Peach to be the most vocal. Meanwhile, my favorite was the sweet Lilly, who just stood next to my side for several moments wanting to be petted. She also had the softest feathers.
Once outside the guy of the other couple took his girl aside, while asking Steven to video for him. He got down on one knee, and proposed. She said yes, complete with many penguins in their video. Just adding the magic on.
Towards the end I was surprised when a penguin named Hope, jumped in my lap. She’d looked at my lap earlier, and Steven confirmed that if anybody would do it, she would. I tried to convince her at that time, but she didn’t do it. It made it that much more surprising when she did. I had a few moments of cuddles, before the queen bee, Winnie, Matriarch of the waddle, pecked her and she hopped out. I was so happy, I didn’t even think to chastise the bully Winnie!
For the rest of the day I was in shock that a penguin had actually jumped in my lap. Even now I keep staring at the pictures/video incredulous!
So, like I blogged a few weeks ago, I want to save penguins. One of my birthday gifts was a check, so I decided to use it for a penguin adoption through Sanccob. Right now, through the end of December, a local agency will double any penguin chick adoptions. Basically, due to abandonment of chicks due to the parents’ molting process (and inability to catch fish for the young) 500 chicks have been rescued from the South African coast to be hand reared by volunteers. This is an expensive, tedious, and sharp beak infested process, hence the need for donations. If you make a R600 or R700 adoption ($50) you also are allowed to “name” “your” penguin and will learn about the brief history while being rehabilitated.
Once I obtain the info of “my penguin” I’ll share it with yall!
Well, in honor of my sweet penguin cuddles with Hope, the penguin I “adopted” is also named Hope. These penguins were listed as endangered in 2009, but there is so much work being done to save them, there is so much hope for their loud kind. :0)