At the start of August, I celebrated my birthday. To celebrate, what naturally became a birthday month and to mark turning 25, I ticked a major thing off my bucket list, feeding some penguins.
For Christmas last year, Jack gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – a Penguin Magic Keeper Experience.
I couldn’t tell you exactly when my love for penguins began but it became a full-fledged obsession around the time of the John Lewis 2014 Christmas advert. I openly wept more times than I care to admit and to this day, it is what I stick on when I’m feeling overwhelmed or PMSing and just need a cathartic cry. (A little insight into my totally cool and glamourous life).
For our zookeeper experience, we headed to Edinburgh. Edinburgh Zoo is home to one of the largest outdoor penguin pool in Europe and three different species of penguins: King, Gentoo and the endangered Northern Rockhopper. The penguin enclosure has been an important feature of the Zoo ever since it opened in 1913 and now Edinburgh Zoo is one of the leading experts in penguin breeding, playing a major role in their conservation around the globe.
Not only does the zoo help lead the way in conservation of species but in the education of the public. Every day, the keepers hold talks to the zoo’s visitors and share their knowledge of the animals. The Penguin Magic Moments Experience allows for small groups to get a little extra insight into these extraordinary animals as you shadow a zookeeper on some of their daily duties around the enclosure.
We met with our zookeeper, Erin who couldn’t have been more helpful or knowledgable. Walking us through the enclosure, she told us about the zoo’s history and conservation efforts and finally what we would be doing during our visit. The Penguin Magic Moment Experience lasts for just over an hour and consists of feeding and taking part in the iconic Penguin Parade.
The Penguin Parade is an institution at Edinburgh Zoo having taken place almost as long as the zoo has been open. Two years ago for my 23rd birthday, I visited the zoo for the first time since childhood and got a front-row seat for the penguin parade. This year, I got to take part.
Before I have people cursing up a storm in the comment section, the Penguin Parade is completely voluntary. No penguin is coerced out of the enclosure to participate in the parade – if no penguins leave the enclosure then the Parade doesn’t take place on that day.
The odds were in our favour on this particular day and three gorgeous gentoos joined us on the parade route, much to my and the crowd’s delight. A little tidbit I found hilarious was it turns out some of the wee fellas cannot be trusted to take part in the parades and have been placed of a ‘penguin watch list’, so to speak. One little penguin, in particular, Kevin, is known to be something of a flight risk and will try to make his great escape given the chance.
And after a quick walk around, it was feeding time!
As the largest colony of the species in the zoo, we were tasked with helping feed the Gentoo penguins. As excited as I was, I was incredibly nervous. Not only do I absolutely despise fish so the thought of touching them was enough to make me wretch, but penguins also have incredibly sharp beaks and I enjoy living with all ten fingers. But for those cute little birds, I was willing to put all this aside.
In an effort to tell the penguins apart, zookeepers have made coloured bands for their flippers. This helped when the feeding frenzy began. Two of my favourite lovable rogues that succeeding in making a lasting impression were Humbug and Cruella. Humbug had a scheduled to see the vet so wasn’t allowed any fish. However, this didn’t stop her from following me around nipping at my ankles and trying to sneak fish out of the bucket! And Cruella liked to make feeding difficult for everyone involved by only eating the fish, tail first.
I don’t think I could rate the experience highly enough. It was amazing to be surrounded by these tiny little creatures, each with such distinct and wonderful personalities. The whole experience was something I will never forget. If you have a loved one that loves animals, I cannot recommend one of the Zookeeper or animal Magic Moment packages enough.
Learn more about the Zookeeper Experience packages.
What animals would you love to get to look after for a day? Let me know!
Until next time,
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