Sunday, December 16, 2007

Penguins all over the place

Many zoos and aquariums highlight penguins in their exhibits.

Meet the 21st century aquariums.

Begin at the Indianapolis Zoo with a world-class facility that completed a mega-million-dollar renovation early this year. It’s the Oceans gallery with mega-sensory experiences of sight, sound and touch, all focused on live animals. Like modern-day museums which encourage hands-on experiences, aquariums too are finding ways to make visits increasingly interactive.

As in Indy, many other locales throughout the country invite visitors to get acquainted with the waters of the world. And several feature penguins.

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga opened its “Penguins’ Rock” exhibit in May. Visitors here also find cold-weather birds.

Aviculturist Amy Graves had worked with warm-weather African penguins at the Knoxville Zoo, then found herself needing a warm jacket when she joined the Antarctic gentoos and macaronis in Chattanooga. She said the new penguins are very friendly, very big and very noisy compared to her earlier charges.

“The gentoos will walk right up to you and give you the penguin version of a ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you,’” she said.

Penguins have soared to the top of visitors’ lists at the Newport Aquarium, too, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The penguin parade – at 10:15 each morning – draws a crowd. Increasingly popular is the new Penguin Encounters program which gives visitors 20 minutes of quality time with warm-weather black-footed penguins.

A similar program at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut is equally popular. Penguins here are warm-weather birds, too. Visitors seated on floor mats meet them in an enclosed area.

“Our penguins are about 24 inches tall, and height is a big thing to them; they don’t have it,” said trainer Laurie Macha. “When they have something towering above them it naturally puts them in a defensive stance, so we try to bring everyone lower to the ground to create a neutral encounter for them.”

No comments: