Closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, the San Diego Zoo is letting their resident penguins visit other animals for enrichment.

By Kelli Bender
April 30, 2020 05:27 PM
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With guests temporarily gone from the park due to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the San Diego Zoo is finding creative ways to keep their many animals enriched and entertained.

The is zoo making use of the spaces usually filled with human visitors but letting some of their animal residents roam around and go on field trips inside the zoo.

One of these recent ventures involved an African penguin named  Dot waddling over to meet a group of orangutans at the primates' exhibit. While it might seem like an odd pairing, keepers picked the two species knowing that both of the animals enjoy having company.

"The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park welcome more than 5.5 million visitors each year, when that number suddenly drops to near zero with only our wildlife care specialists on-site, the animals at both facilities noticed that there had been a change" Rick Schwartz, ambassador for San Diego Zoo Global, told PEOPLE.  "It is very enriching for them to see the crowds and sometimes interact with them — such as our orangutans, who sit at the window and people watch, especially children; or the penguins, who at times, follow people while they are swimming. It is important that we stay away from attributing human feelings to animal behavior, so we wouldn’t specifically say that animals miss the people."

The orangutans and penguin both enjoyed getting to know one another, approaching the glass to get a closer look.

"The penguin team decided to offer an additional training session with the orangutans to celebrate World Penguin Day and raise awareness for these warm-weather birds," Schwartz added about the meeting. "As one of the most endangered types of penguins — with population numbers declining by more than 60 percent in the last 28 years — the breeding colony of African penguins at the Zoo is part our overall conservation efforts, in partnership with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), to save the species in South Africa."

San Diego Zoo
African penguins
| Credit: Courtesy San Diego Zoo Global

Penguins and primates aren't the only animals being treated to fun activities. All of the animals receive regular enrichment "the feed puzzlers, training sessions, and other activities have remained the same now as they did before the pandemic," Schwartz shared.

He added: "This care includes a wide assortment of activities; and continuously adding new and creative actions, that help the wildlife exhibit natural behaviors and provide them opportunities to thrive."

Animal lovers might not be able to visit the San Diego Zoo in person, but they can still pop in to see some of their favorite creatures.

"As part of our #WereHereTogether campaign, parents, educators and fans from around the world can stay connected to their favorite animals and species through a wealth of free online content, entertainment and educational tools for free. The public has access to view our amazing animals online through our 13 animal cams. Currently, our most visited cams are: Polar Bear Cam and Penguin Cam," Schwartz said.

San Diego Zoo
Orangutan
| Credit: Courtesy San Diego Zoo Global

During a virtual visit to the zoo, animal lovers can also help the park's furry and feathered residents by donating to San Diego Zoo Global.

"The closure of both facilities will significantly impact our ability to continue our important mission moving forward. Now, as the pandemic stretches on, we’re asking our San Diego Zoo Global family — members, fans, and donors — for help. As part of this critical needs campaign, donations provided will go to offset ongoing operational costs and will be allocated to the areas of greatest need—more acutely, the care of animals and plants at the Zoo and the Safari Park," Schwartz said. "Most importantly, the funds will offer hope and reassurance, not only for wildlife at the Zoo and Safari Park, but for countless endangered species around the globe."

For more information, and to find out how to make a donation, visit SanDiegoZoo.org/donate or  SDZSafariPark.org/donate. Those wishing to help via traditional mail can send a donation of any amount to San Diego Zoo Global, P.O. Box 120551, San Diego, CA 92112.

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