GSC Penguin Keeper Shares South African Experience

IMG_0307GREENSBORO, NC — Shannon Anderson, lead penguin keeper at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), spent 10 days in South Africa assisting with the rescue, rehabilitation and release of seabirds at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).Anderson’s participation was part of SANCCOB’S Animal Professional Experience, an exchange program for penguin keepers wishing to apply their husbandry knowledge in order to assist with the conservation and welfare of wild penguin populations. Her experience was sponsored by the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant, funding which offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project.

Anderson worked side by side with the organization’s bird rehabilitation staff and volunteers, practicing her current skills and learning how to care for sick, injured, oiled, and abandoned African penguins and other seabirds. Most of her time was spent working in the chick rearing unit, where she was responsible for as few as eight chicks and sometimes as many as 23. There, her responsibilities were preparing and administering food and medications – which included tube feeding chicks four times each day – as well as cleaning the pens and reporting welfare checks.

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Anderson says she learned a lot during her time at SANCCOB. The autonomy of the work reiterated how capable she is at husbandry and affirmed the depth of knowledge she has about African penguins. She enjoyed the opportunity of working with wild penguins, which was far different from her zookeeper work. Anderson says, “It was very different working with wild birds. We were encouraged to be rough. There was no talking. We didn’t handle the birds. You didn’t caudle them, you pushed them to meet milestones to keep them on track with their development and growth. In the end, the chicks were going to rejoin the colony and they had to have the skills necessary to survive. We didn’t want them to get imprinted or they’d just end up needing additional human intervention.” Anderson says that this approach has proven successful for SANCCOB, which boasts an 85% success rate of returning birds to the wild following admission.

Anderson’s experience in South Africa greatly contributed to the conservation of wild birds in her care, but it also gave her new knowledge that she was able to apply at the GSC. Shortly after she arrived home in late December, Anderson found a compromised egg in one of the nest boxes. By following SANCCOB’s protocols regarding incubation, humidity, temperature, and timing, she was successfully able to hatch the chick using sterile forceps and precise timing. All the skills applied to make sure this chick survived, she learned during her time in South Africa. She also took the skills learned from working in SANCCOB’s ICU unit to create a new diet for an ill bird, leading to that bird’s quick recovery. Anderson will admit the confidence to take the lead and use those skills also had something to do with her time at SANCCOB.

Anderson was one of three staff members who received project funding through the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant program. The GSC’s staff can apply for funds to support research projects, conservation work or relevant professional development. Applicants must submit a written application, provide a presentation to the research committee and, if funded, present a program recap to the GSC’s board and staff.

The GSC has long supported SANCCOB via its annual Tuxedo Trot, a 5K and Kids’ Fun Run designed specifically to raise funds for endangered African penguins. The event, which has raised $50,000 since its inception in 2013, will return on Saturday, April 27, 2019. More information about the event can be found online at http://www.tuxedotrot.com.

Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research at the GSC said, “The GSC Research Committee was thrilled to send Shannon to assist with a conservation organization we have supported for years. We receive thank you letters, photos, progress reports, and field updates from SANCCOB, but to see the glow in the eyes of someone who got to experience wild penguin conservation makes our 5K fundraiser so much more meaningful.” When we asked Shannon what her major takeaway was from this trip she said, “In our hearts, zookeepers want to do this, we want to make a difference, and that is why we work with animals. But you never know if you will actually get a chance to use your skills. This trip just made everything worthwhile.”

From the Vet Desk: Penguin Procedure

Zookeepers’ and aquarists’ jobs go far beyond feeding and cleaning up after animals. Our amazing team of professionals know their charges intimately and keep a very close eye on each and every one of the animals they care for. By familiarizing themselves with each animal’s tendencies and behaviors, our team is more likely to notice when something is wrong before it becomes a serious issue. Such was the case recently with Tux, one of our female African penguins.

Several weeks ago, keepers noticed that Tux wasn’t eating regularly. At the time, she was fostering chicks, so our team thought that a possible explanation. However, as the abnormal behavior continued, they began to grow concerned.

Our birds have been trained to take food directly from our keepers’ hands, but Tux is one of the few birds in the colony that will pick up a dropped fish and eat it. Because of her ability to do so, keepers suspected she may have picked up and ingested a foreign body by mistake. They discussed their concerns with our veterinary team, who then performed an examination to attempt to identify the problem. However, the bloodwork and radiograph results from the exam yielded no conclusive results.

As a precautionary measure, our animal care team decided further examination was in order. Enter Dr. Dan Johnson from Avian and Exotic Animal Care and Dr. Rik Wyatt from Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care, both located in Raleigh. These experts came out with a specialized scope to examine the path from Tux’s esophagus all the way to her stomach to ensure no blockage was present.

Check out these photos of the procedure:

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A scope inserted in Tux’s throat allows the animal care team to see the entire path from mouth to stomach.

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The scope shows clear pathways.

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Tux’s heart rate is monitored throughout the procedure.

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Tux’s primary keeper, Shannon, is on hand as the bird comes out of anesthesia.

We are pleased to report that Tux is doing well after her exam, and her eating habits are back to normal. We’re grateful to our animal care team for moving so quickly to address a potential health concern, as well as to Dr. Dan and his team for providing a scope and extra assistance during this procedure!

Oh what a night!

Star Party2015 promises to be an amazing year to spend some warm evenings outside looking at the moon, the stars, at least ten meteor showers, and other astronomical events. To help kick off your stargazing activities; the Greensboro Science Center will be hosting a Star Party on April 24th at 8 PM as a part of the NC Science Festival. This is a free event open to the public. We will have a number of telescopes set up in our parking lot and experts to help point the way. You may also want to bring a pair of binoculars or your own telescope. And as if that isn’t enough excitement for one night…the Greensboro Science Center will be hosting a special program entitled The Secret Life of Penguins as part of its second annual Tuxedo Trot (see previous post for details). The insightful presentation shows the audience the facts and some strange tidbits about these fascinating birds. A Greensboro Science Center Senior Zookeeper will be on hand to reveal secrets about the Center’s own bird colony. As a special treat, a live penguin will be joining the event for what promises to be a very memorable evening.

Carmen and Kuechly: Panther Fans

Carmen and Kuechly: Panther Fans

This special addition to the Tuxedo Trot will be held on April 24th from 7-8pm at the Greensboro Science Center. Tickets to The Secret Life of Penguins are $5 for runners and $10 for non-runners. Tickets can be purchased online with race registration or by calling the Greensboro Science Center at 336-288-3769. All proceeds – 100% – from both the Tuxedo Trot and The Secret Life of Penguins will be donated to The Southern African Foundations for Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). SANCCOB is a non-profit organization devoted to conserving seabirds, especially threatened species such as the African penguin. SANCCOB’s primary objective is to conserve African penguins and other seabirds through rescue, rehabilitation and release of ill, injured, abandoned and oiled birds. Additional registration information can be found online at http://www.tuxedotrot.com.

For the Birds…

Tuxedo TrotDo you want an event that is for the birds: penguins specifically? Then the Tuxedo Trot hosted by the Greensboro Science Center is for you!

The second annual Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins, will be held on Saturday, April 25th, which coincides with World Penguin Day. The Tuxedo Trot is a 5K and Kids’ Fun Run event whose proceeds benefit the conservation of African penguins.

The 5K will begin at 8am at the Greensboro Science Center, located at 4301 Lawndale Drive. Whitney Way Thore, Greensboro native and local celebrity will be starting the race this year.

The route for the 5K will take participants around the scenic Country Park loop twice. The course is very spectator-friendly, so bring your own cheerleaders!

Prizes will be awarded for top finishers. Along with the chance to win awesome prizes, registrants will receive an amazing race T-shirt (T-shirts are only guaranteed for the first 500 registrants – so register early!), a fun souvenir, and the satisfaction that comes with helping save a species Registration for the 5K is $40 until April 23rd at 9am. Registration is $45 at packet pick up and the day of the event.

Participants will also receive admission to the Greensboro Science Center on race day to enjoy – among other things – the playful antics of the Center’s very own African penguins.

Random drawings will be held too – so everyone has a chance to win something special. Prizes include penguin encounters, penguin paintings, gift certificates, and gift baskets generously donated by local businesses.

The Kids’ Fun Run begins at 9am. It is designed for children 10 years old and younger. The course for this event winds through the Center’s Animal Discovery Zoo. It will include a series of fun obstacles for participants to navigate around, including Lemur Limbo and the Hay Bale Hop. Registration for the 5K is $20 until April 23rd at 9am. Registration is $25 at packet pick up and the day of the event.

Participants are encouraged to dress like a penguin – whether it is a simple black and white outfit, an actual tuxedo, or event feathers and a beak! Prizes will be awarded for best costume, so be sure you dress to impress.

Tuxedo Trot Participants

2014 Tuxedo Trot Participants

Introducing Kuechly

We, here at the Greensboro Science Center, are getting excited for Super Bowl XLIX this weekend! Perhaps no one is more excited than our most adorable football fan, little Kuechly.

Kuechly On Her Panthers Blanket

Kuechly On Her Panthers Blanket

Even though our beloved Carolina Panthers won’t be playing on Sunday, Panther Pride is certainly still alive and well at the GSC… In fact, we support our home team so much that we’ve named a penguin after one of our favorite team’s players… Meet Kuechly (pictured below with her sibling at about 10 days old), who was born on December 8, 2014 to penguin parents Pilchard and Possession.

Kuechly and Her Clutch-Mate

Kuechly and Her Clutch-Mate

You might be wondering why we named this little girl after Kuechly instead of another Panther. Well… let’s just say our lead penguin keeper MAY have just a SLIGHT crush on the real Luke Kuechly. Her birds, her rules, right? (Don’t worry, fiancé Drew… she assures us her heart is still yours.)

Carmen and Kuechly: Panther Fans

Carmen and Kuechly: Panther Fans

Luke Kuechly, if you’re reading this… We’d like to invite you to come meet little Kuechly! Just let us know when your schedule allows and we’ll set up a penguin meet and greet with your namesake. We’d also love for you to join us for our second annual Tuxedo Trot on April 25, 2015 (World Penguin Day). It’s a 5K and fun run we’ve created to raise money for SANCCOB, a non-profit organization devoted to saving endangered wild African penguins. Check it out here: http://www.tuxedotrot.com/

Please note: Kuechly is not on exhibit just yet. She’s still growing in her waterproof feathers and will join the rest of her colony when she sharpens her swimming skills!

We’re not sick, we’re molting!

All birds molt, or lose feathers, on a yearly basis. Some birds molt a few feathers at a time, while other birds, such as penguins, molt all of their feathers at once. The total process generally lasts between 4-6 weeks.

Molting Vs. Not Molting

Comparative view: The penguin on the right is in the process of molting.

Imagine having the same sweater on for one whole year…during this time, it might become worn out and need to be replaced. This is essentially how penguins’ feathers work. Their feathers become worn out and broken over the course of the year and it is necessary for a new set of feathers to replace the old set.

There are 3 stages to molt:

  1. Pre-molt
  2. Dropping feathers
  3. Gaining weight back

1. For several weeks leading up to molt, penguins begin gorging themselves with fish. Generally, a penguin will eat approximately 1lb of fish each day. Leading up to their molt, a penguin can eat up to 40% of their body weight daily. These extra calories allow new feathers to be produced under their skin. A penguin usually weighs 7-8lbs, but after bulking up pre-molt, they can weigh up to 11lbs.

2. Once the penguin has reached their maximum weight, they begin to drop feathers. This process generally lasts 1-2 weeks. During this time, the animal is fasting (not eating) and allowing all the feathers to drop off its body while the new feathers come through. They must remain on land during this process due to their lack of waterproofing. They live off their body fat stored from the previous weeks.

Molting Penguin

Molting Penguin

3. The last part of the process, which entails the penguin’s body recovering, lasts another 1-2 weeks. During this time, they gain waterproofing once again on their feathers and begin hunting fish to regain all the weight lost.

Molting generally happens once a year at approximately the same time for each bird (typically between April-Aug). So the next time you see one of us looking a little puffy and uncomfortable, don’t worry, we are just updating our wardrobe. Soon we will be ready to show off our new sleek, shiny new coat of feathers.

Tux and Apollo: A Love Story

Tux and Apollo

Hanging out with my boyfriend, Apollo in the SciQuarium!

Hi, friends, it’s Tux again. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I would share a little bit about my relationship with Apollo. We have lived together since we were chicks, but really didn’t take much notice of each other at first… He was kind of the boy next door, you know? He and I traveled to Greensboro together from Boston and that’s when our relationship really grew! We bonded together during our travels and our time together in quarantine and luckily, our pairing was approved by a Species Survival Plan (SSP). We just have so much in common!

We both love water sports, particularly swimming and diving. Many of our dates take place in the water, in fact. Sometimes we are in it for a good workout, but other times we just like to splash around and have a little fun. We also both enjoy long waddles on the beach and fine seafood dinners. We are hoping to start a family in the future, but we’ll just have to wait to see what happens with that!

Tux and Apollo

Doesn’t he have a great butt???

Not all of my African penguin friends are as lucky as Apollo and I. In some parts of our native range, there just aren’t enough of us left to find suitable mates.

Even if we are lucky enough to find the right bird, we can’t always start families successfully. We’ve lost some of our nesting grounds. In the wild, we like to burrow in guano (or bird poop), but humans collected an awful lot of it over a century ago to use as fertilizer and we just haven’t recovered. It has led some of my friends to nest right out in the open where they are subjected to severe weather, like flooding and extreme heat, as well as predators.

Oil spills have also interfered with some of my friends’ plans to start a family. Some of their mates have been oiled and some, sadly, did not survive. Even if they are rehabilitated from an oil spill, studies have shown that their babies just don’t thrive.

And, I know we’re awesome and humans love to check us out, but in the wild, that has caused us problems as well. Sometimes our people friends accidentally collapse our burrows and our newlyweds in particular are sometimes a little skittish about starting a family with an audience around.

The humans aren’t all bad, though. Many of them are trying to save us. Efforts are underway to protect our breeding grounds, prevent oil spills and maintain the SANCCOB oil spill rehabilitation center for when they do occur, and increase food supply near our homes. That’s why we need your help. 100% of proceeds from Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins go to conservation initiatives. Won’t you consider signing up for this event and give my wild penguin friends a bit more hope for their future?