Meet the Keeper
Looking after Gentoo penguins is not an easy task! Our penguins need to be fed two or three times a day to keep them well fed. We do a combination of hand-feeding, where we individually feed each penguin by hand, and scatter feeding, where we scatter the food in the water. Hand feeding allows the penguins to get comfortable around those of us caring for them and used to human contact, plus it gives us a good opportunity for us to monitor their health.
Close contact allows us to check for signs of stress such as feather loss and lack of appetite, or any signs of injury such as abrasions or cuts. We also scatter-feed where we throw food out to them, as this encourages exercise and social interaction between the penguins. Our penguins mainly eat herring or sprat, both oily fish which keep our penguins healthy.
We also need to check each penguin for bumblefoot, an inflammatory infection that affects birds. It is caused by standing on hard, rough or sharp surfaces, so we make sure that the ice in their enclosure is in good condition and doesn’t hurt their feet.
Our penguins also have regular weigh-ins, where we check the weight of each penguin. They are individually identified by a small ring of beads above their wing, or by their markings, and we record the weight as weight-loss is a key sign of illness or distress.
Every year, penguins undergo what is known as a ‘catastrophic malt’ at the hottest time of the year when they lose all their feathers and grow new ones for the following year. This can be quite stressful for them, so we make sure they have shallow water to cool off in, and keep a close eye on them during this time.
Like all animals, penguins produce waste. This is removed daily by us to keep their enclosure nice and clean, and we hose down the ice to ensure no small pieces are left. Being such friendly and interactive animals though, we need to be careful as Gentoos love to chase the hose!
They are also great nest-builders, so we make sure that nothing gets left behind that they might build with in case it could harm them. However, we do make sure that small stones are around so they can build nests for their eggs as they would in the wild.
We also check the light levels and temperature to ensure that the penguins are kept in the best environment and never get too warm or too cold. During the night, we lower the light for them to get some rest, ready for another active day tomorrow!