Home to the only breeding colony of African penguins in the state of Florida, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has launched an initiative known as “Protecting African Penguins” to coincide with African Penguin Awareness Day on Saturday, October 11.
African Penguin Awareness Day to Highlight Zoo’s Commitment to Saving Endangered Species from Extinction
TAMPA, Fla. (October 8, 2014) — Home to the only breeding colony of African penguins in the state of Florida, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has launched an initiative known as “Protecting African Penguins” to coincide with African Penguin Awareness Day on Saturday, October 11. Guests are invited to discover the Zoo’s rookery of 15 endangered African penguins, meet members of the animal care team who work with these charismatic creatures, hear keeper talks, see penguin feedings up close, peruse artwork painted by actual penguins (who “paint” by waddling across canvas), and find out about the Zoo’s goal to grow its penguin program.
“Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo safeguards some of the rarest animals on the planet. One of those is the endangered African penguin,” said Craig Pugh, executive director and CEO. “To further the Zoo’s commitment to African penguin conservation, we have a plan to double the size of our penguin nursery so that we have more room to raise more chicks.”
The Zoo opened its African penguin habitat in 2007, with the first chick hatched in 2011. Today, the Zoo maintains the only breeding group of African penguins in the state of Florida, currently home to six breeding pairs and three offspring.
“The Zoo’s animal care team has had remarkable success raising penguin families, with eight chicks hatched since 2011,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, VP of animal science and conservation. “By growing our penguin program, we can help to reach international goals to save this species from extinction.”
While visiting the Zoo and its outdoor Penguin Beach habitat, guests are encouraged to chat with the Zoo’s volunteer educators (docents), many of whom know the penguins by name.
“Our docents have many wonderful stories to share,” said Jennifer McLachlan, VP of education. “They know which penguins are partners and which are parents. Many guests don’t realize that penguins mate for life. When two of our older penguins -- Abe (age 22) and Pepper (age 13) -- lost their mates, they found one another. It’s a sweet story of love, the second time around. Like this pair, every penguin has a fun and fascinating tale.”
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has set a $300,000 fundraising target to double the size of its penguin breeding center. The Zoo recently received a grant from the State of Florida, as well as a private donation from Triad Foundation to reach half of the goal. Another $150,000 is needed to make the project a reality.
In their range country of South Africa, penguin colonies are declining at an alarming rate: more than 60 percent in the past three decades. The dramatic population decline is attributed to a combination of factors: reduced food supply due to commercial fisheries; changes in habitat due to shifting prey populations; and catastrophic events including oil spills.
At the current rate, scientists estimate the species may trend toward extinction within 20 years. In 1956, there were an estimated 141,000 breeding of African penguins. By last year, the total had plummeted to only 19,000 pairs - a loss of nearly 90 percent in half a century.
In addition to helping to raise the number of penguins in the managed population in North America, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo also helps to support the wild penguin population by partnering with organizations in South Africa dedicated to protecting coastal penguin habitats.
Individuals or businesses that wish to contribute to the Protecting African Penguins initiative can make a donation, “adopt” a penguin, purchase a penguin awareness bracelet at the Zoo or more. Find more information at the Zoo, visit www.LowryParkZoo.org/Penguins, phone 813-935-8552 ext. 225 or email gifts@LowryParkZoo.com.