Penguins are beloved by bird enthusiasts and “regular” people alike. While they are not typically thought of as “pets”, in the course of my zoo career I have run into several people who have managed to keep penguins in their personal collections. One such instance involved a well-known entertainer who donated his flock of flamingoes – which he housed in a climate-controlled building in the desert just outside Las Vegas – to the Bronx Zoo in order to make room for penguins! I’ve had the good fortune to work with several species in zoos and today would like to cover the care and natural history of a great favorite, the African Penguin, aka the Black-Footed or Jackass Penguin, Spheniscus demersus.
Penguins are demanding captives…I found this to be true even though I had the Bronx Zoo’s resources, and the expertise of experienced co-workers, at my disposal. Most species lack defenses to local fungi, bacteria and parasites …in NYC, West Nile proved to be especially dangerous. The range of preventative medications and vitamin supplements they require necessitated that I hand feed each daily – an enjoyable but tedious task. They learn to “line up” for food right away, but squabble continually…and the numerous wing tags attached to each bird complicated individual identification (the opposite of a wing tag’s intended purpose!). Read More »