Patrons to the Calgary Zoo got a sneak peek on Monday for the return of the much-beloved penguin walks.
This year marks 10 years of the zoo holding the walks. They were delayed by a week after the cold weather was deemed too dangerous for the birds.
Despite the walks being a popular delight for visitors to the zoo, they are actually important for the health of the penguins.
“It’s always really important to try and mimic their natural behaviours,” said Patrick Thompson, animal care manager for the Canadian Wilds and Penguins at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo.
“So anything that we can do that would help them do what comes naturally to a King Penguin is going to be huge for their welfare, and huge for their mental well-being,” he said.
The walks will run at 10:30 a.m. daily, weather and wind dependent. Temperatures for the walk must be between -20 and +5 Celsius and have negligible amounts of wind.
New King Penguin chick at the zoo
Each bird decides for themselves whether they want to go for the walk. Social dynamics within the zoo’s King Penguin rookery can also play a role in whether the birds decide to walk or not.
“What will happen is that the keeper will open the gate and then the birds will either go out the gate or they won’t,” said Thompson.
For past walks, if a bird wasn’t feeling up to walking, often other members of the social group would stay behind with that bird. Penguins are highly sociable animals, living in large colonies in the wild.
“Sometimes if the birds are distracted by social dynamics, or sometimes if it’s really cold and they just want to stay in one place and they don’t want to walk, they will choose to do that,” he said.
One big change this year to the King Penguin rookery was the addition of a new chick, born on Nov. 24. The chick is now roughly chest height on its mother Grace.
This was the latest seasonal chick hatching during the King Penguin breeding season in the zoo’s history. Most of the King Penguins hatch during the summer months.
Mental stimulation and well being
While the chick decided to stay indoors with its mother on Monday, seven other birds did decide to take advantage of the positive temperatures.
“So it’s kind of getting to the point where it’s thinking about coming outside, it hasn’t really made that decision yet, but we’re gonna give it the opportunity to at least come into the outside yard,” said Thompson.
Thompson said that because the chick was so young, it wouldn’t be negatively impacted by deciding to stay indoors.
He said when it does decide to join the other birds for their walks is can expect a great deal of mental enrichment.
“Tons of new experiences, tons of new sensory inputs, being able to see sort of like wild birds and wild animals, and being able to see the public out here, and being able to experience the natural sunlight is obviously huge for its development and its welfare,” he said.
Thompson said that the chick would likely be ready for a full walk in several months time.
Zoo saw increased visitor counts for ZooLights
The zoo announced on Monday that they had the highest ever attendance for ZooLights during the event’s 25-year history.
“We had imposed a 50 per cent visitor cap, which meant that visitors extended themselves across the 41 days that we offered the event,” said Alison Archambault, director of brand and engagement for the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo.
And despite being a sneak peek, Monday’s attendance for the walk was also host to over a hundred visitors.
Archambault said that the zoo has seen increased support from Calgarians, despite the pandemic. This included the support gained from the rebranding of the Calgary Zoo Foundation to the Wilder Institute late last year.
“We were overwhelmed by the support we experienced from the community when we announced that we were deepening our conservation efforts locally and globally through the launch of the Wilder Institute,” she said.
“The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo partnership enables us to secure more partners, work to secure donations in markets outside of Calgary and outside of Canada, and increase the amount of conservation work we do.”
One of those partnerships was securing RE/MAX as a title sponsor for the penguin walks this year.
“Well, you know, like REMAX, the zoo’s committed to housing and finding the perfect home for their customers, or the animals—so it is a very unique partnership,” said Caleb Reach, chairman of the RE/MAX group advertising committee.
Continued safe experiences for customers
Archambault said that the zoo has worked hard with the province, the City of Calgary, and Alberta Health Services to ensure that the zoo remained a safe place for visitors.
“The zoo has always been a safety-first organization, so leaning into pandemic directives, while difficult for everybody in the community—us included—was really part of our DNA, making sure that we were doing as much as possible to give folks a safe place to visit with their families or by themselves over the past two years,” said Archambault.
“And we’ll continue to do that,” she said.