A Day in the life of a Penguin Keeper – Featured Project

written by Michelle Greenfield of the USA.

I walk into work at 7:45 am and welcomed by the wonderful aroma of penguins. I am excited for the day ahead, knowing I have the incredible opportunity to work with one of the world’s endangered species. I quickly go into general, the central hub of the center, where I grab my boots, oil skins, arm guards (old wetsuit arms), and gloves. Promptly at 8am, everyone in the center comes together for the morning meeting. Daily assignments are distributed and community wide announcements are made. Once the bird rehabber who is leading the meeting wishes everyone a good day, I head off to the pens, as the day has officially begun. The daily schedule varies depending upon which job I am assigned to for the day, but a typical day for someone working in a pen with the penguins is as follows.

The first job I have is to give the penguins their medications and darrows, which is a mixture of water and electrolytes. The medications that come in pill form, I push down the bird’s throat for it to swallow. I place the liquid medications into the darrow solution, and then give it to the penguin via a tube.

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After the birds get all of their medications, depending upon how far along they are in the rehabilitation process, they get to swim. Those birds that have recently arrived swim for only a few minutes, while those that are going to be released soon are given an entire hour to swim.   IMG_4139

While the birds are swimming, I clean the pen and drag the mats over to Mats and Crates where they will be cleaned with a power hose to remove the large collection of penguin poop that has accumulated on them. Then I scrub the pen with soap and water until it is spotless. Once the mats are clean, I put them back in the pen and let the birds come back in when their swimming time is over. My next task is to go prepare fish. Every penguin has a specific fish limit determined by the veterinary staff, which is mostly either one or two fish. All of the penguins receive one medicated fish every morning, so after collecting the fish from the bucket of frozen fish and letting them thaw, I put the daily vitamin into the fish’s mouth and get ready to feed. Feeding is probably the most exciting part of the day. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being able to feed a penguin.

DSC_0853When I go into the pen with my bucket of fish, the little chicks come crowd by my feet, begging for food. No matter how the day is going, I cannot help but smile at how adorable they are. To feed, I pick up one of the penguins and sit down on my stool, securing its body and flippers between my legs and holding its head with my gloved hand. Then I open its mouth and shove the fish in, being careful to make sure that the bird completely swallows the fish. I follow this process until all of the penguins have been fed. Then, I gently spray them down with the hose so that the fish oil does not ruin the waterproof feathering of the birds. Since the penguins have to wait at least one hour after feeding before they can be handled, I have some time to get started on whatever jobs need to be done. This mostly involves cleaning. Buckets, syringes, walkways…all need to be scrubbed clean and covered down with an antiseptic spray. Towels also need to be washed and dried, and nesting material needs to be cut for the permanent residents at the center. I also help prepare chick mix, a special food mixture for the chicks made of chopped up seafood, eggs, and chicken, and formula, a supplement for underweight birds, made up of a mixture of fish and vitamins. Apart from possibly giving a few birds some water or formula, there is not much to do apart from cleaning before lunchtime. Right before lunch, I place the birds into the pool so that they can swim over lunch, and then I take my break. After lunch, I go prepare more fish so that I am ready for the second feeding of the day. Feeding goes just like it did in the morning. Since the birds have to sit again, I go back to doing jobs and helping out around the center. I also have to prepare my medication for the 16:00 fluids, and fill out the bird cards. Each bird has its own card, which contains all information pertaining to the bird, including what medications it is on and how many fish it eats every day. If there is ever any doubt about the condition of a bird, the first thing the veterinarian does is to check the bird’s history, which is readily found on the card. At 16:00, I give the second round of medications and fluids to the penguins in the same fashion as I did at the very beginning of the day. Then I quickly go mop the floor in the entrance of the center so that everything is nice and clean and ready for the following day. Right before I leave at 17:00, I replace the mosquito repellant tabs in the pen and turn on the heat lamps so that the birds will be comfortable for the night. Then I put away my oilskins and gumboots, wish everyone a good night, and head out for the day. Every day has its ups and downs. All of the scrubbing and cleaning is hard work, but being able to work with African penguins is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I know that every day I come to work, I am helping to rehabilitate and save an endangered species.

Volunteering on this project has been a wonderful experience – don’t hesitate, you will find it truly rewarding.

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