Conservation, Education, Job creation, Must See, News

$500,000 grant from DTE helps penguins fly at the Detroit Zoo


There is little fear that the lights won’t go on at the Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC) once completed in 2016, thanks to DTE Energy.  Its philanthropic wing, the DTE Energy Foundation, has given $500,000 to help see the project to completion.

The DTE grant will be used to provide projection mapping, an advanced video feature to depict the icebergs splitting and sending massive cascades of ice crashing into the sea. That’s called iceberg calving.

The design of the PPCC has a historical origin. The exterior will resemble a tabular iceberg and waterfall and is inspired by famed Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who crossed the Drake Passage.

Visitors will be able to get a small feel of what it is like in the penguin’s natural habitat, as special effects like arctic blasts, waves, and snow simulate the unforgiving Antarctic realm.  There will also be an ice-skating rink, which turns into a splash-and-play area in the summer, in the entry plaza to be enjoyed by patrons.

Once completed, after a planning and design phase of two years, more than 80 penguins, representing the rockhopper macaroni, king, and Gentoo species, will pick up and move from the zoo’s Penguinarium to their more spacious digs.

The 33,000 sq.-ft. Penguinarium will give the penguins plenty of room for their “deep dive” as they soar through the 326,000 gallon, 25-ft. deep aquatic area.  You’ll be able to watch the spectacle from above and below the water … a dual viewing experience not possible in nature. You’ll see the flightless birds do their version of “flying” under the water in an area much larger and deeper than the zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life exhibit.

“This generous gift will enable our visitors to experience one of nature’s most dramatic visual spectacles,” said Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society.

No matter how you look at it, building a whole habitat for an animal is a tall order. It brought 100 jobs to the area to do design, engineering, and construction. It is also expected to be a $100 million economic gain to metro-Detroit by the time it opens next year. Then, of course, there are the several full-time staff jobs that will then have to be filled.

“We are happy to partner with the zoo to help build a world-class penguin center that will be enjoyed by visitors of all ages for many generations,” said Faye Nelson, vice president, public affairs, DTE Energy, and president, DTE Energy Foundation. “In addition, we are proud to invest in this high-tech facility because these types of cultural projects help support the economic progress of our region and state.”

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