Jacksonville Zoo Has A New, Shy Penguins

Although they were in Florida the new penguins at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens stayed mostly in the water on Wednesday morning — where it was warmer. Their pool was heated and it was a bit chilly outside for their liking. That’s right, too chilly for penguins.

The eight Magellanic penguins, which go on public display Friday,  can brave colder temperatures but prefer 80 to 85 degrees, said bird supervisor Genéve Darnell. They’re the only warm-weather and migratory penguins. In the wild, they migrate between the Falkland Islands and Brazil.  Darnell said they’re personable and have individual quirks.   “They’re very funny,” Darnell said. “They kind of remind me of Charlie Chaplin, sort of clumsy.”  On Wednesday, six of them were out and stuck together, whether waddling, swimming or eyeing humans.

At feeding time, they plopped onto land awkwardly to take fish out of a zookeeper’s hand, something the public will be able to watch twice daily.

Darnell pulled up her sleeve to show a small bite mark.

“That’s what happens when your arm gets between a penguin and a fish,” she said.

But she said they’re not aggressive, so it doesn’t happen often.

Dubbed “Tuxedo Coast,” the 2,800-square-foot exhibit in the zoo’s play park area holds 12,000 gallons of water, has an underwater viewing window and is suitable for up to 30 medium-size penguins. It was previously home to river otters, which were adopted by zoos elsewhere, and remodeling cost about $165,000, according to a zoo spokeswoman.

The Jacksonville  Zoo acquired five males and three females from the San Francisco Zoo, where they were hatched. There’s no way to tell them apart by sight, Darnell said, so blood samples have to be taken to determine gender. The penguins range in age from 2 to 8 years; in captivity, they can live up to 30 years.

She said breeding Magellanic penguins in captivity has been successful, with six hatched last year in the U.S. The Jacksonville Zoo has three breeding pairs and they’re hoping for success in a year or two, she said.

In non-zookeeper terms, that translates to three words: Fluffy. Baby. Penguins.

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