Conservation, Education, Must See, News

Polk Penguin Center gets highest award from Association of Zoos & Aquariums

Penguins in Habitat 2 - Jennie Miller compressed

The Polk Penguin Conservation Center has been a star attraction at the Detroit Zoo since it opened last year.

It’s now getting even more accolades.

The exhibit recently received the 2017 Exhibit Award, the highest award given by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

“This award is the highest honor in exhibit design, and recognizes the Detroit Zoo for their dedication and expertise in designing a novel, immersive habitat that provides the best in animal care and welfare as well as a superior educational experience for visitors,” says Dan Ashe, AZA president and CEO.

Penguins with visitors Photo by  Jennie Miller

Penguins with visitors
Photo by Jennie Miller

With the opening of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center in 2016, the zoo saw record numbers of attendees. People flocked to see the $31-million, 33,000-square-foot facility with its 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area where visitors can watch more than 80 penguins of four species – king, gentoo, macaroni and rockhopper – live as they would in the Antarctic.

The guests peer into the lives of the cold water avians with acrylic window and two acrylic tunnels that allow them to see how they live both on land and in the water.

With water at 40 degrees and the air temperature at 37 degrees, not only do the birds have optimal comfort, but the right mood is set for patrons. Nesting, raising their young, diving and porpoising are all easy for the birds to do.

The exhibit was inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary Antarctic expedition and crossing of the Drake Passage and evokes the harsh and visceral ice world of the southern continent. It is recreated in a 360-degree 4-D entry experience on the deck of Shackleton’s ship that includes blasts of polar air, sea mist and snow.

“An incredible amount of creativity, ingenuity and research went into the development of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center’s unique design, including crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica and observing thousands of penguins in the wild,” says Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO for the Detroit Zoological Society. “We wanted first and foremost to create an experience that allowed the penguins to thrive and that was also thrilling for our visitors. The result is the most extraordinary conservation center for penguins in the world that redefines ‘state of the art’ for zoo penguin habitats.”

The Polk Penguin Conservation Center was designed by Jones & Jones, architects of the Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life and National Amphibian Conservation Center, and by Albert Kahn Associates, architects of the Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. World-renowned polar ecologist and penguin expert Dr. Bill Fraser, director of the Polar Oceans Research Group, was a key consultant on the project.

Those pudgy, winged newcomers to The D don’t seem to be stepping out of the spotlight any time soon.

– Top photo by Jennie Miller

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