Zoo Penguins Say “What Coronavirus?”

COVID-19 coronavirus has had a brutal impact on much of the world. But in two southeast Asian zoos, one group of residents is taking it all in stride. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, waddling around like they own the place!

The COVID-19 coronavirus has infected millions and killed over a quarter of a million people. In some parts of the world, reports are coming in that zoo animals like tigers and other cats are being infected as well.

Of course, virtually every zoo and wildlife park on the planet is closed. But what about all those animals? Not to worry, the zoo caretakers are still around to take care of the denizens.

In the Hong Kong zoo and in the Singapore zoo, the penguins are finding life to be very different without the normal crowds of people to throw them fish and keep them busy. But don’t worry, they’re in good hands and making the most of their quarantine.

Over at the Hong Kong zoo, piles of snow are laid out each morning. The 100 or so penguins are all Antarctic varieties, so their living conditions have to reflect that. But they come waddling right over for the morning feeding, gathering around the caretakers to get their fish. The only thing missing is the normal crowd. Normally, morning feeds are a big draw for penguin fans.

“If the guests are here, certainly they would be more interactive with the guests through the window, but without guests, we can do… more enrichment sessions with the penguins,” explained Frank Chau, the park’s senior marine mammal supervisor.

In spite of manpower reductions and the need to work in separate, four-person teams, Chau says the penguins are being kept happy and healthy. “The manpower for each team is lower… Now we got only three to four people every day to take care of all the penguins and make sure every penguin is still living happily and healthily both mentally and physically,” Chau said.

Over in Singapore, the situation is somewhat different. The group of African penguins living there is making the most of the quarantine. With the zoo empty and the birds needing regular exercise, their handlers had a creative idea. Why not let the birds have the run of large parts of the park?

They were given free run of their exhibit space and the children’s playground. They seemed unimpressed. When they got to the bronze statues of the sea lions, however, they seemed to need a minute to catch their breath. Sea lions are natural predators for penguins.

The handlers got an idea. The penguins need exercise to stay strong. There’s lots of unused space. So they built an obstacle course for the little explorers. The course included colorful balls to navigate around, a bridge, some trenches and slide into a pool. The penguins seemed to really take to the new challenge.

Of course, the handlers enjoyed the spectacle. Since they’re working 12 hour shifts, some entertainment was probable welcome.

Singapore has experienced more than 16,000 cases of COVID-19 and is unsure when their zoo will be able to reopen. The Hong Kong zoo is hoping they will be able to reopen soon. Hong Kong is expected to begin lifting restrictions soon, since their daily case count has fallen into the single digits.

Without a doubt, these penguins are enjoying quarantine. But I’m sure that when the zoos reopen, they will be ready to entertain children of all ages once again.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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