The opening of the Penguin Coast exhibit is getting closer! So close in fact, that the first batch of African penguins have entered the exhibit. Last week, a group of a dozen young birds moved in, first in line to explore the 1,920 square feet of space and 185,000 gallons of water. The juveniles were brought in first because their transfer is simplified by the fact that the young penguins are not yet in bonded breeding pairs. Adults have already been paired together and will have their sights on a nesting area.
Before any penguins were moved, however, the exhibit was penguin-proofed by keepers. Every area of the exhibit was inspected to ensure it was ready for the penguins. Logs were moved, gates constructed, floor mats laid, supplies stacked and fridges stocked by our dedicated keepers.
With all the preparations made, it was time to move the birds! It is a short journey by van from Rock Island to Penguin coast. Once inside the building, the penguins waddled around the holding room freely, while keepers intently watched their behavior.
After allowing the penguins a week to adjust to the indoor environment at Penguin Coast, keepers opened the doors for the penguins to explore the outdoor area and the pool. Initially, a few of the young penguins would poke their heads out the door. It took a few moments before they finally started walking around and inspecting the exhibit. They stayed in a tight group, curiously surveying their new habitat. When one would retreat indoors, the rest would follow.
Penguins are prey animals, so they are naturally tentative in new environments. The group did not stray far from the door at first, but slowly moved closer to the pools edge. After skittishly leaning over the edges of the rocks for a while, one brave bird took the first plunge. He swam for a bit before quickly climbing up the rocks. The second bird to take a dip was accidental, nudged off the edge by the crowd of penguins pushing forward. Soon enough however, the entire group found their confidence and swam through the exhibit.
In the next few days, Zoo visitors should expect to see fewer penguins at Rock Island, as the staff continues to move the rest of the adults into the new exhibit. Once the move is complete, there will be a final clean-up period in the four days (September 23-26) leading to the opening of the exhibit. The Zoo will be closed during this period, reopening on the 27th at 10 a.m. and unveiling the Penguin Coast exhibit.