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Saturday, June 25, 2011

One-Tank Trip for June 25/26-2011 - African Penguins back at Toronto Zoo

   A dozen endangered African penguins have a new home at the Toronto Zoo.

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Some new feathered friends from Africa have found a way to stay cool this summer at the Toronto Zoo.
   After an 18-year absence, African penguins are back as zoo visitors are being entertained by these 12 playful critters.
   They’re housed in the new Endangered African Penguin Exhibit while also joining the lineup are bonnethead sharks at Stingray Bay and Splash Island waterpark is open daily from this weekend.

   Black and whites do the waddle walk
   “They swim, they dive, they waddle and mostly they are sure to entertain zoo visitors of all ages,” said zoo publicist Katie Gray.
   The permanent exhibit covering 557 square metres (6,000 square feet) includes a “state-of-the-art underwater viewing area” where visitors can come face to face with the "flippin" cute friends.
   Swanky accommodations for this colony of aquatic flightless birds includes a penguin house with indoor pool, underwater viewing area and a large window for public viewing when they are “off exhibit due to cold temperatures.”
   While the exhibit initially holds a dozen penguins, there is room for up to 50 of the sea birds to live comfortably.

   Pelicans, cormorants also moving in
   The penguins are sharing the stage with some other new critters at the zoo.
   Great white and pink-backed pelicans, white-breasted cormorants and other waterfowl are also new arrivals.
   John Tracogna, zoo chief executive officer, said the penguins are a “real favourite for our visitors” and having them is in keeping with the vision to support the Species Survival Plan.
   “We will offer daily zoo keeper talks and penguin feedings, events and programs to educate our visitors on this popular and interesting animal,” he added.
Natural predators and humans are taking their toll on the population of endangered African penguins. (Photo by Adrian Pingstone)
   Meet the waddlers
   The cast of new critters includes DJ, known as the class clown, Greenbird who has made a nest area for himself and his “lady” Puff, while Shaker is a great swimmer and most vocal bird of the group.
   Flap is first in line for food and hangs out under the sprinkler while Pedro is a big fellow who steals rocks from Greenbird and Puff.

    Fun facts
   African penguin pairs mate for life and while they cannot fly in the air, they do plenty of flying through the water.
   Their life span is about 15 to 20 years, can have up to 300 feathers per square inch (6.45 square centimetres) of their body and both males and females incubate the eggs.
   Loss of suitable breeding ground, competition for food from commercial fishing, egg collection and the other environmental factors such as oil spills have all contributed to their rapid decline in population.
   There are now less than 60,000 African penguins, down from millions in the 1800s.
   Natural predators such as seals, sharks and mongoose take their toll on the endangered penguin population but humans are by far the greatest threat to these endangered birds.
    The zoo attracts 1.4-million visitors annually and has a collection of 16,000 animals, including invertebrates and fish, representing 491 species.
   It stretches over 284 hectares (710 acres) and is divided into zoogeographic regions: Indo-Malaya, Africa, Americas (North and South America), Eurasia, the Tundra and Australasia.


   If you go:
   The Toronto Zoo is open year-round, except Christmas Day, and is in east Toronto at Meadowvale Road and Highway 401 (Exit 389).
   Current hours are 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily, with admission $23 for ages 13 to64; $17, seniors; $13, four to 12; no charge to age three. Parking is $10. www.torontozoo.com; (416) 392-5929.


Jim Fox can be reached at onetanktrips@hotmail.com

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