It has been a year since they waddled into the biggest habitat of its kind, and the studies are in. All 80 penguins brought to the 33,000-square-foot Polk Penguin Conservation Center haven’t just done well, they have thrived.
The studies began before the flightless avians even arrived in their current home. Back in November 2015, when the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) Center for Zoo Animal Welfare (CZAW) began the studies, they were still in the old penguinarium.
“Through the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare, we conduct extensive research to better understand and advance the well-being of all animals living in the care of humans,” says Ron Kagan, DZS executive director and CEO. “Whenever we design a new habitat, we aim to provide an environment that allows the animals to thrive.”
It is no surprise they have taken to the new habitat so well. It was planned to be as close to their Antarctic home as possible. There was also an increase in space for them to play and live. Those new wide open spaces include a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep, chilled aquatic area, complete with waves.
There are also rocky ridges for when the penguins want a drier experience, and like their far away homeland, snow falls from the sky … or at least the ceiling.
The king penguins seem to have had one of the larger shifts. Since they moved from the old location, they have taken to the water ten times more, according to the findings of the DZS and CZAW.
“The new habitat has ten times the amount of water available to the penguins. This is solid evidence that having additional space translates into an increase in species-typical behaviors, and that it has nothing to do with the need to find food or other resources. They simply like to swim and dive,” Kagan says. “This type of long-term study is an incredible opportunity for us to examine a variety of factors that affect the well-being of the Zoo’s individual penguins, and to contribute to the body of knowledge on penguin behavior.”
Polk is also a step up for visitors with its underwater viewing areas include a 34-foot-wide acrylic window and two acrylic tunnels. There is also the ability to learn about more than just penguins like Antarctic explorers, modern-day researchers and the ecosystems that lie at the bottom of the earth.
The state-of-the-art habitat is a large part of what the zoo attributes to its record breaking attendance last year.
As summer is just around the corner it may be a safe bet that it will be a place to beat the heat again this year.
– Lead picture: Gentoo with kings by Jennie Miller