ST. LOUIS, Mo. – January 20 is Penguin Awareness Day and, no doubt about it, Saint Louis Zoo-goers love the penguins.
“I think we are one of the most visited areas within the Zoo. Even when the polar bear was opening and the grizzly bears were opening and Sea Lion Sound was opening, they were still competing with Penguin and Puffin Coast,” said Saint Louis Zoo birdkeeper Samantha Turnquist.
Penguin Awareness Day is aimed at educating about these flightless birds and the threats to them in the wild.
“There are seventeen species of penguin total that live in the world today and many of them are either threatened or vulnerable,” Turnquist said.
Most penguins live in cold climates closer to Antarctica, like the Rockhoppers, Gentoos, and Kings you’ll find inside Penguin and Puffin Coast’s climate-controlled habitat. But there are species that live in warmer climates, like the Humboldt penguins you see outside.
“These guys are native to South America so they can withstand a larger range of temperatures,” Turnquist said. “They can be out here when it is a little bit colder. We usually bring them in when it’s 32 degrees or lower. But they can stay out in our hot summers.”
Humboldt penguins come from the nutrient rich coast of Chile and Peru. Lots of birds means lots of guano, or excrement, which provides a soft place to nest. But the harvesting of that guano as organic fertilizer threatened penguin burrows. Now the Saint Louis Zoo helps regulate that harvest and keepers like Turnquist get to take part.
“What I got to do was help vets and the local people that work at the reserve down there do health assessments on the birds, take blood samples just to compare the native birds to the guys here just to see how healthy they are and what the populations are,” Turnquist said.
For all you trivia night fans, did you know a group of penguins in water is called a raft but on land they are called a waddle? Store that in the back of your mind somewhere.