The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has broken ground on a new penguin exhibit which will encompass a 1.5-acre parcel of land in the middle of the Zoo adjacent to current entrance to The African Journey exhibit. The exhibit, scheduled to open in late 2014 or early 2015, will cost approximately $10 million and provide enough space to allow the Zoo’s current colony of 47 African penguins to double in number.
“This exhibit will be a game-changer for us, and is the most complex project the Zoo has undertaken since I began here in 2008,” stated Don Hutchinson, president/CEO of The Maryland Zoo. “Not only will we provide a much richer and diverse living environment for the penguins, our visitors will be able to see and learn about these birds from many vantage points around the exhibit, including in an education building with an underwater viewing window. We could not be more excited to bring this exhibit to the community.”
The exhibit will encompass 1.5 acres, which includes a 175,000 gallon pool surrounding an indoor Conservation Center for housing the birds’ nest boxes, which in effect is similar to the existing Rock Island facility. “However, that is where the similarities end,” continued Hutchinson. “The new center will provide keepers much larger work space for animal diet preparation, daily care and research work; a center for daily operations. There will also be a two-story Interpretive Center which includes a multi-purpose room for education programs and animal demonstrations, restrooms, indoor space for special events, and a large underwater viewing area so visitors can watch the birds swim.”
A special section of the new exhibit area will be a special building for the zoo’s traveling penguins, which are currently housed in another area of the Zoo. The penguins that travel around the community for outreach programs and media appearances cannot intermingle with the main penguin population, so this new building will be specifically for the housing and care of these “Animal Ambassadors.” Their area will include a separate yard and pool and will allow the Zoo to have as many as eight penguin ambassadors for programs and appearances.
The African penguins (Spheniscus dermersus), native to the islands and coast of southwest Africa (South Africa and Namibia) are also known as black-footed penguins, and are nicknamed the “jackass penguin” because its mating call sounds like a braying donkey. When fully grown they stand between 25 and 27 inches tall and can weigh up nine to eleven pounds.
African penguins have been calling The Maryland Zoo’s Rock Island home for 45 years. The Maryland Zoo maintains one of the largest colonies and has the most successful breeding program of African penguins in North America. The Zoo breeds at the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) for African penguins. Breeding season runs from September and March every year, and, to date, the Zoo has bred more than 900 penguin chicks.
The new penguin exhibit was designed by CLRdesign, inc. a Philadelphia-based architecture, planning, landscape architecture, and exhibit design firm and is being built by Whiting Turner, a construction management and general contracting company based in Baltimore, MD.
“In order to accommodate this new exhibit, we have had to re-route the pathways for the Polar Bear Watch and African Journey, as well as move the shuttle to Buffalo Yard Road,” said Hutchinson. “But these minor and temporary disruptions will be insignificant compared to what excitement the new exhibit will bring to the Zoo and the community.”