A humongous tubular iceberg and giant steel beams are not the usual sights to see at the Detroit Zoo, but they are the foundation of the largest penguin habitat in the world, the Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC).
Begun 15 months ago, the penguins’ new 33,000-sq.-ft. home will be completed in early 2016. It will house 80 penguins of four species –– gentoo, macaroni, rockhopper and king.
The new three gentoo arrivals are the third-largest penguin species. They joined their fellow penguins at the zoo earlier this year. Once the PPCC is done, even more of the new breed will be on hand.
“An incredible amount of research has gone into the development of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center’s unique and authentic design, including us actually crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica and observing thousands of penguins in the wild,” said Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan. “This will be the most extraordinary conservation center for penguins in the world and will redefine ‘state of the art’ for penguin habitats, just as our Penguinarium did in 1968. People will come from all over the world to see this amazing facility.”
The Center has a series of ramps that descend through a series of 4-D effects resembling arctic blasts, waves, snow and iceberg “calving” (a phenomenon where icebergs split, and sends massive cascades of ice crashing into the sea). They not only simulate a place, but also a time. Antarctica will be represented as it was seen by Sir Ernest Shackleton as he crossed the Dark Passage during an expedition that lasted from of 1914 to 1917.
The PPCC has a unique show for penguins’ fans … the ability to watch these flightless birds explore and deep dive, a feat not even viewed in nature. The ability to watch them frolic in a chilled, 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area is possible because of two acrylic underwater tunnels, an idea borrowed from the zoo’s current award winning Arctic Ring of Life penguin habitat.
To make sure the new home is comparable to the penguins’ natural habitat, the water will be kept at 37 degrees Fahrenheit. This will ensure they are not only comfortable, but will also allow for more interesting wild behavior, from diving and porpoising to nesting and rearing young.
For anyone afraid that such a large complex will harm the environment, the zoo has already taken that into consideration. The water- and energy-saving features are consistent with the DZS’s commitment to environmental leadership. The building has net-zero water goals through the recirculation and treatment of the habitat and animal-management pools, wash-down systems and exterior splash-play area. The facility was also designed with a super-insulated exterior building envelope and will be equipped with state-of-the-art custom heating and cooling systems to minimize energy consumption.
The concern for eco-balance keeps in line with the zoo’s history. In 2015, the Detroit Zoo was honored with the Green Award by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). This award recognizes green programs that exist institution-wide in the 230 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to reduce the environmental impact of an organization from a business operations standpoint.
The Detroit Zoo’s Greenprint strategic plan ensures daily practices and policies along with facility design at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo are implemented in the most energy-efficient and sustainable manner.
The commitment to both the environment outside the zoo walls, as well as the penguins does not stop there. The Polar Oceans Research Group will be on hand to talk to zoo visitors about the threats penguins face out in the wild.
The Detroit Zoo has a history with the Polar Oceans Research Group. It not only has helped fund the group, but it consulted with their leader, Dr. Bill Fraser, on the design.
The total cost of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center is $29.5 million. Detroit Zoological Society Vice Chairman Stephen Polk and his family donated $10 million to the project. That grant is the largest amount ever contributed to an exhibit in the history of the Zoo.
Once The PPCC is done, the old home of the penguins will not go to waste. The bats will get their turn as it is turned into a conservation center for them.
It’s the circle of life.