Penguin party time! Join the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Saturday for International African Penguin Awareness Day

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs will be hosting a celebration in honor of International African Penguin Awareness Day on 10/08/22.
Published: Oct. 7, 2022 at 10:54 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - They’re cute, they’re mischievous, and they’re always impeccably dressed.

Meet the penguins of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!

“We’ve got so many personalities in our penguin flock,” laughs Grace Sullivan, the senior keeper for Water’s Edge Africa, where the zoo’s African penguins, hippos and lemurs make their home. “If you’re regulars at the zoo, you’ve seen those personalities out in full force. If you’re a newcomer to the zoo, you’ll see those penguin personalities right away -- they’re not shy about hiding who they are.”

There’s supercouple Alex and Safara ...

“They’re so steady, they’re not flashy penguins, they’re not here for the attention, they’re happy to just hang out on the beach, and you’ll see that they’re pretty much constantly together just walking through the beaches here.”

... And sweetheart Napoleon.

“[He] is one of our sweetest penguins; he’s always right up close to the fence. ... He will always be following keepers around. ... It’s really sweet. He’s actually one of the penguins who will hang out with us while we’re cleaning. The rest of the penguins are happy to go about their day, but Napoleon just wants to be close to his keepers. He just wants to hang out with us for the rest of the day.”

Along with 13 other hilarious and lovable penguin “flockstars,” as the zoo calls them.

And this weekend, it’s all about them!

“So on Saturday, Oct. 8, we are going to be hosting our first ever International African Penguin Awareness Day right here on the beaches of Water’s Edge Africa right here in the penguin exhibit,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan came up with the idea for the event, which includes games, keeper talks, penguin feedings, a coloring station, contests -- even a rubber ducky race.

But it’s not all fun and games -- the most important part of the event is highlighting what people can do to help African penguins in the wild. Guano harvesting in the 60s and 70s had a devastating impact on penguin nests, and by the 1980s, the population was cut in half.

“This event is pretty important. African penguins are an endangered species, and their numbers are continuing to decline in the wild,” Sullivan told 11 News.

But there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic, she said.

“There’s been a little bit of rebound. We talk about penguin adaptation all the time, all the things that make them really good at surviving in the wild. Humans have really great adaptation too, and our greatest adaptation is our human brain. So with our big brain adaptation, human beings saw that we were having a negative impact on penguins and sought to protect these nesting areas. So, organizations like SANCCOB stepped in and allowed people to do research and allowed people to be aware of the impact that this guano harvesting was having. So we did see a rebound in penguin populations when those nesting areas and thise fishing areas started being protected.”

SANCOBB, or the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, is an international non-profit dedicated to “reversing the decline of seabird populations through the rescue, rehabilitation and release of ill, injured, abandoned and oiled seabirds – especially endangered species like the African penguin.” The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo works with SANCOBB, specifically by contributing to a program on Robin Island, where an African penguin ranger oversees a vital nesting area.

“Really important environment where penguins can thrive,” Sullivan said.

Part of Saturday’s event includes education about what SANCOBB does and how guests can help -- as well as a special gesture for the penguin ranger.

“You can pick up a wristband that matches the armband for one of our penguin flock. So all of our penguins have different colored wristbands, they have their names on them, but this is an opportunity for our guests to sort of test their research skills and spend the day knowing what it’s like being a wildlife biologist for penguins. So if you can track down the penguin that matches your wristband. We’ll have a coloring station where you can draw the spot pattern on penguins. So our penguin biologists in the wild will be identifying penguins based on their individual spot patterns on their chest, where we take a little bit easier route and we actually identify our penguins based on those colored bands. So our guests will get the chance to see what it’s like to be a zookeeper and see what it’s like to be a penguin biologist.

“At that coloring station, they can either take their drawings with them or we’ll hold on to them and send them to our ranger, our penguin ranger on Robin Island, as a thank you for all that hard work they’re doing out there in Africa.”

The penguin party kicks off at 9 a.m. and lasts all day! A full list of events can be found here.

More on SANCOBB, including how you can adopt a penguin, can be found here.

“There are so many ways we can help,” Sullivan said. “Our goal for International Penguin Awareness Day is to sort of highlight what we can do at home, how our guests have already made an impact just by supporting the zoo -- it allows us to support penguins -- and we want to let our guests know that even when we act locally, it can have a global impact.”