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African penguins at Denver Zoo live their best lives as they get a major habitat upgrade

Seventeen African penguins trembled and twisted, as if they were part of a single organism, out of the 65-degree water of their new enclosure at the Denver Zoo and on the hot deck above the week last.

Impressively, they never lost their tight training, squeezed shoulder to shoulder as they were like an elevator full of commuters with stiff arms and tuxedo clad (albeit incredibly cute).

“They will start to expand and make more use of the main area as they acclimatize,” said John Azua, curator of birds at the Denver Zoo, watching the zoo’s tiny human visitors crush their cheeks against a clear acrylic divider to catch the eye. -eye with the compact creatures. “For now, they are still grouped.”

You can’t blame them: At the time of this visit, the African penguins had barely been in the public eye for 24 hours, after zoo workers removed the wall separating their exhibit from the rest of the 84-acre campus , just north of City Park, home to around 3,000 other animals.

Located in the former Benson Predator Ridge, the $ 1.75 million African Penguin Habitat, which opened on September 30, draws visitors right inside the main entrance. The zoo painted and repaired the fake brown (now gray) rocks of the Ridge instead of tearing them down, while closing their perimeter to create this state-of-the-art 2,400-square-foot home for its endangered penguins, which are native to the area. ‘South Africa.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Children visit the new African penguin habitat at the Denver Zoo on Thursday, September 30, 2021.

“Their new pool is about four to five times the size of their swimming area at Bird World,” said Jake Kubié, communications director for the Denver Zoological Foundation, which operates the nonprofit Denver Zoo.

“The long, linear nature of it also allows them to display natural behaviors, such as porpoising (i.e. what dolphins do), which they weren’t able to do before. Azua added of the 40 foot long pool. “Their old exhibit was what we call in the industry a ‘dump and fill’, so no filtration, no circulation and a lot of wasted water.”

Pinnacle African Penguin Point, as it is officially called, solves these problems through technology. The new 10,000 square foot water tank is temperature controlled and filtered every 15 minutes, allowing caretakers to reuse the water instead of emptying it once or twice a week to prevent algae blooms summer events that hit the Bird World exhibit.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

A group of African penguins gather in their new habitat at the Denver Zoo on Thursday, September 30, 2021.

There are also heaters under parts of the deck that will allow the penguins to easily access the water, even in freezing weather, although once it hits 20 degrees or below they are still gathered at inside. The multiple burrows and nesting boxes, as well as various natural and landscaped substrates, effectively mimic their origins in the Cape of Good Hope, Kubié said.

It is specifically inspired by Boulder Beach in South Africa, where experts at the Denver Zoo have brought their Colorado knowledge to help rehabilitate and save African penguins for much of the past two decades. Animal care experts are also returning from these overseas trips with new practices that improve the care of captive animals at the Denver Zoo, Azua said.

Vertix Builders, the company behind the exhibit, has a lot of adaptation experience, having recently completed a major update for the ever-popular Space Odyssey at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

“Unlike a traditional commercial building, the exhibits are uniquely unique and the designers, contractors and zoo staff had to work closely together to develop a vision and then execute it to bring it to life,” said Ted Laszlo, vice-president of Vertix, in a press statement.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Left to right, Holly Samson, 2, and her sister Juniper, 3, of Denver have their photos taken in the new African penguin habitat at the Denver Zoo on opening day, Thursday, September 30, 2021.

Vertix had to balance the water and sand areas (the latter, where the keepers’ discussions and daily meals will soon begin), with spaces in which the penguins could both exercise and cool off, including including 600 feet of interior space. They also installed a rope and pulley system that zoo visitors can use to create “their own playful waves that the penguins can splash in”.

Of course, that would require these still-acclimatized penguins to loosen ranks, and luckily – for visitors and penguins alike – they’re on the right track.

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.