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Hot off the plane: Dubai's penguins
- Last Updated: July 23. 2010
Their high-pitched singing might have gone unnoticed by the passengers of Emirates flight EK028, but when the plane landed it was clear there were some rather unusual VIPs on board.
Instead of pulling into the gate, the jet taxied directly to the Customs dock, where government officials and a police escort were waiting to greet the new arrivals.
The usually lengthy disembarkation process was speeded up to just 20 minutes as the six visitors had their papers stamped, were placed in a refrigerated truck to keep them cool in the 40°C heat and transported to their new home – Dubai Mall’s underwater zoo.
At the zoo, which forms part of Dubai Aquarium, special precautions had to be put in place before their arrival as they cannot stand temperatures above 15C and are used to living in particularly harsh cold climates.
“They are very susceptible to the outside environment so a lot of planning had to go into getting them here,” says Damien Prendergast, the manager of the zoo and aquarium.
The six sub-Antarctic birds, three male and three female, were packed into two wooden crates covered by chicken wire and loaded into the cargo hold along with passengers’ luggage.
Emirates officials lowered the temperature of the hold from a typical 15C to 7C to make the seven-hour journey more comfortable for the birds.
“The biggest issue once they landed and the doors opened was to get them to a refrigerated area as quickly as possible,” Prendergast says.
The penguins arrived at Dubai International Airport in the early hours of a June morning and were met by officials from the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water, which looks after wildlife and ecosystems, as well as officers from Customs and Emirates Airline.
Prior to them being lifted out of the plane, their crates were covered with insulation as air-conditioning was blasted into the hold. They were then given a police escort as they were driven to the zoo.
Less than half an hour later, they moved into their new home, a 28-metre squared glass tank in the indoor zoo. Here the air is maintained at freezing temperatures with a machine producing real snow. There is also a small pool in which the penguins can take a dip in 10C water. Gentoos are the fastest-swimming penguins, reaching speeds of up to 36kph.
The one-year-old birds, which are expected to start breeding next year once they are mature, are each hand-fed half a kilo of herring and mackerel three times a day. They are such fussy eaters that if the fish is not presented head first, they refuse to take it.
They were bred in captivity in Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, which has one of the largest colonies in the world with more than 120 birds and which dispatches them to zoos as far afield as Japan and New Zealand.
The zoo holds a genetic database of all Gentoos held in captivity in Europe and even operates a penguin cam monitoring their movements, as well as a penguin Jacuzzi and bubble-making machine to keep the birds entertained.
“We are not taking the birds from the natural environment. They are bred to live in captivity and could never be released into the wild,” says Prendergast.
“These are animals that the majority of people here have never seen and will never see. We include them in an educational programme on melting ice and global warming for children from pre-school age to secondary school. Hopefully we are helping to teach people about climate change and the importance of protecting their environment.”
The creatures, he says, are playful, friendly and immensely curious. They are also very vocal and sing loudly while searching for a partner.
Mature birds usually lay two eggs in April, which hatch after a 35-day incubation period, during which time the parents take it in turns to watch them. Newborns weigh about 85 grams, but within three months have grown to 5kg. The younger birds chase their parents around the nest to beg for food.
By the time they are two years old, males can weigh up to 8.6kg while females reach a maximum weight of 8.1kg. Gentoos are easily recognisable by the white stripe across their heads and are the third largest species after the Emperor and King penguins.
Next spring, nests will be introduced to the Dubai enclosure to encourage breeding. In the wild, these are made from a circular piles of stones, which are jealously guarded. A male penguin can curry favour with a female by offering her a particularly nice stone. Most mating penguins tend to seek out the same partner year after year.
In places like the Falklands, the penguins live on krill. They are hunted by sea lions, leopard seals and orca whales, while seabirds target the eggs and chicks.
The Gentoos, which have yet to be named, are the second set of penguins to be introduced to the zoo. Last year 15 South American Humboldt penguins were moved in. The Humboldts, which are usually found on the Pacific coast, were among the zoo’s first residents when it opened in November 2008. They have yet to start breeding but to encourage them, their keepers have installed nesting boxes into their enclosure, which is separate from the Gentoos. Prendergast says: “They have settled in very well and love interacting with their keeper and feeders, who have given them all names. We are hopeful they will start soon.”
Posted by Lin Kerns at 8:59 AM
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Penguin Babies Grow Quickly
Here is the baby penguin today! It can't exactly fit under momma anymore. Although with its head tucked underneath Biscuit, the baby probably feels invisible to the rest of the world. Tennessee Aquarium visitors obviously have better viewing of this youngster now. Throughout the day you can observe the chick begging and being fed by the parents. He or she is also very vocal now and the tiny call is quite cute. When keepers take the chick behind the scenes for weigh-ins, the adorable little bird nuzzles up against the keepers. Take a look:
Posted by Lin Kerns at 11:03 AM
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Sydney penguins return to the wild
A group of three small penguins, two males and one female, have been released back into the wild after making a recovery at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.
Spokeswoman Danielle McGill said the penguins had each spent around two and a half months in the zoo hospital and their return to the water at Watsons Bay on Tuesday was a great sight.
"It went really well, they were all ready and raring to go and just ran down in a little group to the water and jumped in," she said.
The penguins were rescued on different occasions from beaches in Sydney's eastern suburbs after being discovered by Surf Life Savers and local residents.
They had come ashore for their annual moult but were weak, vulnerable and close to death when they arrived.
The female penguin also had a flipper injury.
Penguins in the wild face many threats and clashes with domestic cats and dogs, or marine debris caused by humans, can create huge problems.
A small penguin was treated at Taronga's Wildlife Hospital around eighteen months ago for fishing wire that was wrapped so tightly around its flipper it was almost amputated.
The zoo hopes that the two males, who are of breeding age, will go on to create new colonies.
Posted by Lin Kerns at 8:23 AM
Don't harass the penguins
By Liz Clarke
If you are ever on Jeopardy and the final answer is: "A country in which one can see both lions AND penguins in their natural habitat," the correct question is: "What is South Africa?"
I wouldn't have known this had it not been for the 2010 World Cup, but I have seen BOTH on half-day excursions during my time here.
The lion-sighting came a few weeks back, at a Lion Park about an hour northwest of Johannesburg, where a group of us went on a tour and saw several prides of lions and had the magical experience of petting baby lion cubs.
The penguin-sighting was this morning--hundreds of them, in fact--at Boulders Bay, a breathtakingly beautiful penguin sanctuary at the base of Simon's Town on the Cape Peninsula's coast, about an hour southeast of Cape Town.
What we saw were African Penguins (also known as Jackass Penguins because of their donkey-like braying). In fact, we saw an entire colony of African Penguins, which are smaller than the ones in the movies. And unlike the lion cubs we petted, they weren't all napping. Some were swimming and splashing among the waves. Others were sunning on rocks. Some waddled up and down the dunes. Some nested. And one scurried past with twigs in his beak, on his way to build something.
The African Penguins is considered a vulnerable species; its population has plunged from about 1.5 million in 1910 to 150,000 today, largely because of rampant harvesting of penguin eggs. It enjoys eating squid, anchovies and pilchards (a type of fish). The colony at Boulders Bay is thriving, about 3,000 strong, because the area is looked after by South Africa's Navy, based nearby. It also helps that the penguins' brushy environment is protected from tourists, who must walk along boardwalks constructed above the sand to watch and photograph them. And there are rules, spelled out on signs and in the brochure: No littering, no dogs, no collecting plants or shells, no smoking, no alcohol and no harassing of the penguins.
Posted by Lin Kerns at 8:21 AM
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Please vote for me so that I can continue my work and relay to you all what the eye sees and the mind interprets upon that vast country known as Antarctica and its precious inhabitants.
Go HERE to register and vote, please... I do need your help.
Lin (aka wiinterrr)
Posted by Lin Kerns at 3:32 PM