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!

It’s African Penguin Awareness Day!

Today, October 8, 2016, is African Penguin Awareness Day! The Greensboro Science Center is home to a colony of 20 African penguins. These birds are playful, inquisitive, and a general joy to watch. They are among the most popular animals that call the GSC home!

But, sadly, these beautiful and engaging animals are endangered in the wild. According to some estimates, they could be extinct in the wild in as few as 15 years. But, don’t despair! There are ways you can help – right from home!

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One of the leading causes of African penguins’ population decline is overfishing. You can help alleviate this problem by simply making sustainable seafood choices. The Greensboro Science Center is a Seafood Watch partner. As a partner, we are committed to spreading the word about making smart decisions when it comes to seafood. Be sure to pick up a Seafood Watch guide at the GSC during your next visit to help you make better seafood choices!

Another way you can help is by running or walking. You read that right! On May 20, 2017, we’ll be hosting our 4th annual Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins. This 5K and Kids’ Fun Run is a fundraiser for SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds). All proceeds from the event are donated to this amazing organization dedicated to helping save this charismatic species. Registration for the Tuxedo Trot is currently available online at tuxedotrot.com.

Can’t wait until May? Well, we’ve got a way you can help right now! Our friends at The Cannonball (marathon, half marathon, and 5K) are giving you a discount AND giving a donation to the Tuxedo Trot with anyone who registers using code LOVEGSO through October 10!

Another easy way to help is to spread the word about the Tuxedo Trot to your friends, family, coworkers, workout buddies, running groups, and even random strangers on the street (although you may get funny looks). Like and share our Tuxedo Trot Facebook page and talk about the event using #tuxedotrot. Anything you can do to spread the word about this event will help us raise funds for African penguin conservation. Thanks for your help!

Sustainable Seafood Sustains Penguins Too

By Alison Manka, School and SciQuarium Programs Manager

A few weeks ago, we welcomed, Pat, the newest African penguin chick to the Greensboro Science Center’s African penguin colony. This special girl spent her first months of life gulping down enormous quantities of fish, first from her parents, then from her keepers. In a mere three months, she grew from a scant 63 grams (about the weight of a C battery) to well over 2,600 grams (over five and a half pounds). This rapid growth in our penguin as well as wild penguin chicks is attributable to the steady and regular supply of fish. Unfortunately, not all wild penguin chicks are as lucky and satiated as Pat.

penguin chickMany wild African penguin parents struggle to feed their chicks. African penguins feed mainly on small schooling fish such as sardines, anchovies, and herring. Adults will travel great distances in search of these schooling fish which follow nutrient rich offshore currents. These fish-rich currents are moving farther and farther off shore as water temperature increases. As a result, penguins are forced to travel longer and farther in search of fish running the gauntlet of oil spills, discarded fishing gear, and natural predators. When the penguins finally reach the fishing grounds, there are far fewer fish to be found. The fish penguins need to survive are being harvested for human consumption at an unsustainable rate.

Seafood WatchThis sounds like a problem too big and too distant for us living half a world away to do anything about. What can we do about fishing around Africa? As it turns out, there is something that each and every one of us can do, it doesn’t cost a dime and will help penguins as well as all other aquatic animals. All we need to do to help is make sure any seafood we consume, whether from a grocer or a restaurant, is being sustainably harvested. The Greensboro Science Center is proud to be a member of Seafood Watch, a sustainable seafood resource created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that works with government agencies, scientists, and fisheries to recommend which seafood is a best choice, a good alternative, and which to avoid. They provide this information free of charge in a pocket sized Seafood Watch guide or the free app available for iOS and Android devices. Pocket guides are available for the Southeast Region, Sushi, and in Spanish at the Greensboro Science Center. Feel free to pick up a few extra to pass out to friends.

Selecting sustainably harvested seafood is a wonderful way to help aquatic animals including penguins in the long term, but want to do more? You can help by running, walking, or waddling with us in our annual Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins. This 5K race and 1K Kids Fun Run, held on May 21st 2016, benefits SANCCOB, a wonderful non-profit in South Africa that rescues abandoned chicks, helps oiled birds, raises awareness, and works on conservation efforts. 100% of the race’s proceeds will go directly to SANCCOB. This year, with your help, we are striving to raise over $20,000 for SANCCOB to aid their efforts to save the endangered African penguin.

Please help all of Pat’s wild penguin cousins by choosing sustainably harvested seafood and joining us May 21st to run, walk, or waddle in the Greensboro Science Center’s Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins to support SANCCOB. Sustainable seafood sustains penguins too!

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Tux and Apollo: A Love Story

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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!

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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?

Meet The Keeper: Carmen

About Carmen

Keeper Carmen is one of the newer zoo keepers at the Greensboro Science Center. She graduated college as a vet tech in 2006 and came to us from the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores where she worked mostly with penguins and raptors.

Her past experience has mostly dealt with aquatic animals. She has been a dolphin trainer at Discovery Cove in Orlando. She also has experience training sharks, which she said is actually quite difficult because, despite their reputation as aggressive predators, they are not very food-motivated.

Keeper Carmen with Animals In Her Care

Keeper Carmen with Animals In Her Care

Carmen’s favorite thing about working in the GSC’s Carolina SciQuarium is the variety of animals she gets to work with. On a daily basis, she gets to work with penguins, a sloth, otters, a fishing cat and more. She is particularly fond of working with the penguins because they have such unique personalities. She truly enjoys working at the GSC and credits the likable staff and positive work environment for making the Center such a great place to work.

About Carmen’s Work

A typical day for keepers like Carmen, who work primarily in the SciQuarium, begins with cleaning exhibits. From the cleaning up waste to scrubbing windows, they make sure each exhibit is clean and ready for the animals to enter. They put out fresh water and food, then release the animals into the exhibits from their back holding areas. Overall, this process takes about an hour and a half and is done before the SciQuarium opens to the public.

Next, Carmen and her team prepare fish for the 10:00am penguin feeding (please keep in mind that the feeding schedule is always subject to change). After the feeding, keepers clean the back holding areas, rinse the penguin deck and prepare diets for the animals. At around 1:30pm, they switch out which set of otters are on exhibit so each pair gets some time with the public each day.

Carmen with One of Our African Penguins

Carmen with One of Our African Penguins

The afternoons are typically filled with projects such as repurposing equipment, fixing anything may need attention and completing paperwork. At 3:00pm, the penguins are fed again (again, the schedule is subject to change). After the penguin feeding, keepers finish up projects and get ready to prepare the animals for closing. They prepare and distribute animal enrichment and get the animals into their back holding areas for the night.