Penguin coming to Topeka Zoo for educational experience


TOPEKA, Kan. — A special guest from the Kansas City Zoo will head to the Topeka Zoo to help people learn about penguins. The special event has been put together in part through the Conservation Connection.

Thursday at 6:30p.m. the zoo will host the rare Humboldt penguin. The event will teach guests about what is threatening the Humboldt penguin population in South America.

Sean Putney, senior director of zoological operations at the Kansas City Zoo, will discuss his recent trip to the Punta San Juan Reserve in Peru.

The Kansas City Zoo partners with accredited zoos to help keep the Punta San Juan as a Marine Reserve and to protect future generations of Humboldt penguins.

Humboldt penguin biology

The Humboldt is a South American penguin that breeds in coastal Chile and Peru. The penguin is named after the cold water current it dips its flippers into. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Vulnerable is just one step above Endangered.

Wikipedia: Humboldt Penguin

Humboldts are medium-sized penguins, growing to 22 to 28 inches long and weighing about 8 to 13 lbs. The species of penguin has a black head with a white border that runs from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, and joins at the throat. The birds have a pink base to the bill and splotches of pink on their feet and on the underside of their wings. The pink is the result of bare skin patches. It keeps them cool in warmer climates.

Juveniles have dark heads and no breast-band. Females are slightly smaller than their male counterparts.

The torpedo-shaped bodies help the penguins move through water. Humboldts can reach a speed of 30 miles per hour. The wings help them swim, and their webbed feet help them steer underwater.

The penguins eat fish, squid, and crustaceans. They have a special gland that removes salt from their bodies after they swallow seawater.

Wikipedia: Humboldt Penguin

The underwater world requires special eyesight. The Humboldts eyes are sensitive to the colors of the sea — violets, blues, and greens. Their eyes also have a second transparent eyelid, serving as “goggles” while the animal is underwater.

Threats to Humboldt penguins

The penguins nest on islands and rocky coasts; they burrow into holes and sometimes use caves. The penguins are found only along the Pacific coast.

Humboldts have a declining population, in part due to over-fishing, climate change, and ocean acidification. Penguins also struggle due to habitat destruction by other species. The current Homboldt population is approximately 3,300 to 12,000.

Several species prey on Humboldt penguins — from leopard seals, fur seals, sea lions, sharks, and killer whales. Their eggs need extra protection from foxes, snakes, and other predators.

Since 1995, Chile has had a ban on the hunting and capture of Homboldts, and four of the major breeding colonies are protected.

Fun Facts:

  • Like all penguins, a Humboldt’s black and white colors helps camouflage it from predators. When seen from below, the whitish belly blends in with the light cast on the ocean surface; and when seen from above, the penguins’ black back blends in with the darkness of the ocean.
  • Humboldts preen their feathers throughout the day for multiple reasons. They gather oil from their preening gland and apply it to their feathers. This keeps their feathers waterproof, helping insulate the birds from the cold.
  • Humboldt penguins can blush. When they get too hot, they have to avoid over-heating. So they flush pink on their face, wings, and feet.
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