Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Penguins waddle to Winnipeg

Zoo to host sociable African birds at temporary exhibit

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If the new polar bear Hudson is not enough to attract visitors to the Assiniboine Park Zoo, penguins might add to the draw.

The zoo will host penguins for the first time, it announced Friday. Visitors will be able to see a group of four African black-footed penguins on a temporary basis this spring and summer, with an anticipated opening goal of early May.

The opportunity to get the penguins came at a zoo conference in Phoenix, said Tim Sinclair-Smith, director of zoological operations at Assiniboine Park Zoo.

"I met up with one of my colleagues and he was telling me about one of his penguin exhibits which book up very quickly -- they're very popular. And fortunately, I was able to secure the penguin exhibit and bring it up here," he said.

Because they were born in captivity and hand-raised, he said the birds are very sociable.

"They can be very friendly or handleable. They're very interactive. They're at a good size where they're not too much of a handful but you can pick them up and work with them. They're a very exciting animal and very agile swimmers," he said.

African black-footed penguins are native to the coast of South Africa and are known for their loud, braying calls. The noise should not be too loud for people, Sinclair-Smith said. What will be noticeable, however, is the smell.

"They're birds, so lots of poop, lots of smell, but that's just normal," he said.

The penguins will be at the park for a limited time this spring and summer as part of the HUB Horizon Insurance Penguin Cove.

In addition to seeing the penguins, which will be visible above and below water, visitors will be educated on the birds' threatened status and the efforts being made to keep them from extinction. The zoo will make a donation to the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.

"When you bring penguins in, we don't want to just be bringing them so people can look at them. The whole reason for bringing them here is to educate people about the plight of (the penguins)," Sinclair-Smith said.

The exhibit is only at the zoo temporarily. The penguins will be taken to a permanent location after the exhibit ends, but Sinclair-Smith said he's still excited for the opportunity.

"It's something unique, it's something different and it's something that hasn't been here before. We have to realize that not everybody will get the opportunity to go and see penguins, whether it's in a zoo across the country or across the world," he said.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2013 B1

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