Meet the Keeper
Looking after Gentoo penguins is a challenging but rewarding 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. 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 rough or sharp surfaces, so we make sure that the ice in their enclosure is in good condition and doesn’t hurt their feet, and we have a specially designed smooth pebble floor surface.
Our penguins also have regular weigh-ins, where we check the weight of each penguin. They are individually identified by a small band above their wing, or by their markings, and we record the weight as this is a good indicator of health.
Every year, just as they would in the wild, our penguins undergo what is known as a ‘catastrophic moult’ at the hottest time of the year when they lose all their feathers and grow new ones for the following year. During this time they can look quite untidy as their new feathers grow in! Their feathers also act as a waterproof layer for the penguins when they are swimming, so when they are moulting they cannot go in the water. This is why you will see them only on the land during this time, looking a bit scruffy; we make sure they are comfortable by having shallow water to cool off in, and keep a close eye on them for these few weeks.
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 inquisitive animals though, we need to be on the look out as Gentoos love to chase the hose!
They are great nest-builders, so we make sure that there are plenty of 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!