Ever wondered about what it is like for the Penguins?

Well, you can come face to face with the African Penguin colony that are resting on the shores of Penguin Point! The climate at Busch Gardens is perfect for these feathered friends in comparison to their counterparts that live in the Antarctic. This species of penguin, the African Penguin, is able to thrive in our warmer weather here as well as our water temperatures that range between 40 and 70 degrees. In short, they love the temperature here in Florida, and so do we! When you visit, you will see them waddling around on the shore or you may see them diving continuously into the chilled 65-degree waters of the habitat.

Let’s look a little closer and find out more about these beauties!

Originally coming from the sandy shores tin the southern part of Africa, the African Penguin likes to spend the night on the beach, and the day hunting it’s prey in the open ocean of the South Atlantic. They definitely have a Floridian attitude, spending their lives on the beach! This species of penguin can have up to 100 feathers per square inch of their body. This is in order to help them stay protected from any harsh environments and elements in the wild. We will go over all the ins and outs of these penguins a little later. Often in the wild, these penguins can be found swimming at speeds that can exceed 12 miles per hour, and can dive up to 400 feet deep!

The African penguins are considered endangered and at Busch Gardens Tampa, there is a celebrated awareness day that is a big part of the outreach of the species. Please join the celebration, if you are able, on October 17th by Penguin Point which is located by the Nairobi pathway of the park. Each year there is a lot to do, including photo opportunities, family fun activities, and penguin meet and greets. It is a lot of fun to attend and learn more about these amazing creatures!

Interesting facts about this SpeciesImage result for busch gardens penguin

  • The range or habitat for this species is usually the southernmost coast that is in Africa. They are found mostly in climates that have water that is between temperatures of 40 to 70 degrees.
    • They breed on 24 islands that are offshore between Namibia and Port Elizabeth in South Africa. They have colonies on the mainland near Betty’s Bay and Simonstown, and in Namibia as well.
  •  As for their size, most people think these guys are small as they stand about 2 feet tall and weigh between 5-9lb. The reason they are thought to be small is the most common penguin people see is the emperor penguin, which stands double the African Penguin at 4 feet tall.
  • They are black backed with a white breast. I was informed by the staff that they are often asked why the penguins are black and white, this is called countershading and it allows them to stay camouflaged from their predators.
    • While they are still young, their feathers are gray, fluffy, and lighter in color on the belly and chest. These fImage result for busch gardens penguineathers remain for about a year until they molt to the adult plumage.
  • They are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that both sexes look the same.
  • Penguin’s feathers are stiff and they overlap in several layers that trap air next to their skin for insulation.
    • The feathers are also very resilient to both water and wind.
  • They are often seen preening each other, or allopreening, to help each other arrange feathers that they cannot reach themselves. This is done between mates and builds the bond between them.
  • They are able to waterproof themselves by using their beak and spreading oil that comes from a gland at the base of their tail. This allows them to swim with ease!
  • When it is time to molt, penguins feed avidly and put on a good bit of weight made up of fat.  This is normally done during the summer months, however, it is common to see a penguin molt outside of this time as well.
    • Molting is a stressful process for the birds as they lose the protection they have and cannot swim for food or hunt.
    • The process takes two weeks and they are known to fast during this time. It will take an additional 4-10 days for new feathers to grow so they can begin to hunt again.
  • They eat mainly sea creatures. Their diet consists of:
    • There are 25 species of fish (which make up 42 percent of its diet)
    • 18 species of crustaceans
    • 3 species of squid
    • 1 species of polychaete (worms).
  • They swallow their food whole using barb-like structures on the roof of their mouth to grab fish.
  • They will forage between 9-60 miles ofshore for food.
  • African penguin  mate for life.Breeding occurs all year but peak times are November and March. There are two broods a year.
  • 2- 4  eggs are laid and  are then incubated for 38-42 days.
    • Both parents take turns incubating the eggs.
  • They live 10-15 years in the wild. Mid to late 20s in human care.
  • They emit a loud, harsh call, rthe sound is close to a donkeycall, to communicate and are very vocal.
  • They are near-sighted birds on land but have excellent vision when swimming.

What about the specific Penguins in Busch Gardens Tampa? What are they like?

First their is Banks, one of the youngest of the crew. He was brought in as an egg from Georgia. The team worked with Banks, (see video to the left) on learning how to swim. He was a quick learner! After learning to swim he was able to join the colony. This was a quick 5 months, and he is now happily living with the others.

The oldest penguins at the park are Dijon and Curry, who are sister and brother. Dijon (pictured to the right with green tag), is a overly friendly and outgoing penguin with her keepers. She is an excellent animal ambassador for the  African Penguin species. She makes both radio and TV appearances frequently and particpates in the Christmas Town photo opportunites with guests.

Her brother Curry, (pictured to the right with blue tag), enjoys hanging around his keeper’s feet while being fed, and is always the curious one when anything happens in the habitat. He is also a showoff when it comes to his speed and agility in the water.

Marino (pictured left top), which was named after an excellent footballl quaterback, loves getting his neck scratched. If you do this for too long of a period, Dijon will get jealous and come waddling over. Marino also loves to play ball, so he was named appropriately!

MK, which is short for Mary Katherine, is Busch Garden’s quirky girl. She is sweet, when she wants to be. She is also known for braying at the keeper to get attention as well. She is extremely vocal.

Tang (pictured far right below) is the second largest of the males, and is often by himself as it is what he prefers. He spends most of his day in the water, showing off his swimming talents. Lloyd (centered in the photo below) is the sneaky ninja penguin. He is very laid back, but if you are not looking, he will sneak up behind you and will lightly peck your leg, just to let you know he is there. He is also the largest of the males and weighs 8lbs. 

The final additions to the colony are the two cuties to the left. That were hatched at the park, their names have yet to be released but they promise to release details on them as well as their personalities as they discover them!

“The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund supports The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANNCOB)which is an organization that is making a big difference for these birds. SANNCOBis a non-profit organization whose mission is to focus on protecting various species including the African Penguin. With projects like oil spill response, hand raising chicks and recuse and rehabilitation efforts, this organization is doing everything in its power to protect this species from extinction” -Excerpt from Busch Gardens

If you want to get up close and personal with the penguins at Busch Gardens in Tampa, learn more here!