Cuddled and Adopted a Penguin

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)

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***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.

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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.

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We explored around the Penguin Coast, watching the penguin feeding, and saw the Polar Bear eating snacks.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Once I obtain the info of “my penguin” I’ll share it with yall!

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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)

 

 

 

Rescued Penguins For My Birthday

I daydream about being a Disney princess…but it isn’t for the princes, the fancy castle, clothes, or even the books (I know *gasp*!) its because I secretly wish that I could whistle (ok, I can’t even whistle in the first place…) and animals would come walk over to me. Sure there are some animals that are more interesting than others, but I’m fascinated by most of the animal kingdom and the fact that some zoos offer close up encounters is my new favorite.

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A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to participate in such an encounter at the Gulfarium in Florida. I was able to interact with the amazing winged creatures known as penguins, and basically became imprinted with them. I tried to deny it for awhile, that I wasn’t really in love with them, but no one bought it.

Later, I found out that there were specific awareness days for Penguins, days set aside to bring awareness to the species. I was in a school in January so I wore all of my penguin gear: tacky sweater, jewelry, etc cetera and shared that I was bringing attention to them. Then, the teacher asked, “why are you bringing attention to them? Are they endangered?” cue me stammering like an idiot. “umm..I think so?” (I think in my mind I was just bringing attention to the fact that they are cute, and NOT mostly native to cold climates)

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Thus began research. Many penguins are endangered. The penguins I feel in love with, South African penguins, are in danger every year as they live around the coast of South Africa. During the summers many ships carrying large amounts of oil crash endangering the lives of marine life. The oil poisons the birds, as well as coats their feathers, destroying their water proofing abilities, thus making them unable to enter the water to feed themselves or their families. This pictures are pretty heart breaking, and there’s a cool documentation of the worst oil spill in recent history (2000) in: The Great Penguin Rescue

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Right now is chick breeding season, and sometimes chicks are abandoned by their parents, so SANCCOB comes in to hand rear them (a very tedious and pricey process). It is important that they help to support the species in this way because there are only 25,000 breeding pairs of South African penguins, and those are always in danger of oil spills reducing their populations and disrupting their mating/breeding cycles.

So, since December is related to penguins, I thought it would be fun to forgo gifts for my birthday this year and ask for penguin adoptions instead! There are many organizations and I’ll include the links below. There are organizations that are working in the countries, but there are also plenty of zoos with breeding programs that are also working to increase the populations. Some of the penguin adoptions are pricey, so feel free to make a smaller donation if that is better for you. Let’s save the penguins!

Adopt a Penguin

SANCCOB Saves Sea Birds  – Adopt an egg, a chick, or a “home pen penguin” If you adopt a chick you can name it, and they’ll release it. There will be no further information after they release it. Amounts are in South African currency. R700 is about $50 for reference. Right now, through the end of December, donations are doubled through a local donor.

Richmond Zoo -the amazon wishlist of the Richmond Zoo. Not sure if they listed items for penguins, but I know they have a South African penguin breeding program.

Maryland Zoo Giving Tuesday Maryland Zoo has the largest colony of breeding pairs of South African Penguins in North America. On Giving Tuesday all donations will be doubled. They also offer symbolic animal adoptions.