The Penguin Post has learned that penguins in the Calgary Zoo have been able to escape from their enclosure and are contacting people outside their water tank which has raised questions from an animal rights group. Zoo officials say some of their Gentoo penguins have leapt from their watery habitat and shared floor space with onlookers.
One video shot by a zoo-goer shows a penguin on the viewer gallery floor mixed up in peoples’ legs. It’s a situation that should be viewed with caution, given the risk the penguins could be stressed by coming into contact with humans, said Rob Laidlaw of the group Zoocheck Canada. “It’s not a good idea for members of the public to make contact with the animals,” said Laidlaw. But Laidlaw, whose group has been sharply critical of the zoo in the past, wasn’t about to condemn the organization for how it operates its penguin exhibit. “They’re probably trying to determine whether or not this really works,” he said. “There’s concerns when people are able to access animals but not in every case…I haven’t seen their exhibit yet.” He said the Gentoo penguin’s outgoing nature might make them less vulnerable to harm from such activity. The Gentoos are among 46 penguins first exhibited at the zoo last February. The penguin exhibit was designed after one at the St. Louis Zoo and tailored to provide a more free-ranging space for the birds, said Animal Care Curator Jamie Dorgan. “Technically, the whole building is kind of their enclosure — the public pathway is part of the exhibit,” he said. Penguins do occasionally escape the core of their enclosure, bordered by a short plexiglass wall, during business hours, said Dorgan, but more commonly at nighttime. Staff are there to monitor the crowd to prevent the birds being touched, but the zoo considers the open concept a good one for both animals and humans. “It connects people a lot more with the animals and with our conservation efforts,” said Dorgan, comparing the environment to the zoo’s rainforest aviary when birds fly free. The penguins, he adds, were born in and transferred from other zoos and have only known the presence of humans. “We don’t see any signs of stress,” he said. But he said if any changes to the present set-up are required in the future, they’ll be made. Zoo officials say exhibits that include four species of penguins have been hugely popular and will likely be seen by 1.2 million people this year.