Zoo keepers at Living Coasts in Torquay are naming and shaming their naughtiest penguins. They’re writing the names of mischievous birds on a chalkboard for guests to see - and singling out others for their good behaviour.
The 63 African penguins and 12 macaroni penguins at Torquay’s coastal zoo mix freely with guests. But some penguins are better-behaved than others.
Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling: “We’ve put up a board on which we write the names of the best and worst-behaved penguins, and what they’ve done. This gives guests a real insight into exactly what penguins get up to. Penguins always look so sweet and innocent, and some are – but some of them have a dark side…!”
The board has room for naughty birds on one side and nice birds on the other. They’ve also been labelled as either “Im-peck-able” or “Grounded.”
African penguin Evie is on the naughty list for giving the zoo vets the run around. Maja, also an African penguin, is there too, for being nosy and sticking her head into other penguins’ burrows uninvited. Badger steals nesting material like sticks and cut strips of old fire hose from other penguins.
“Charlie once pinched my brush,” said Head Keeper Lois Rowell. “He also likes empty stick sacks - he will try to drag the whole thing into his burrow - he is very house-proud!”
Macaroni penguin Yoyo tries to slip through the penguin-proof doors that lead into the next exhibit, Auk Cliff. Educator Tom James: “A flock of penguins is like a class of primary school children – some are good - some are not so good!”
What gets a penguin on the nice list? Teamwork is one thing. Presenter Rhyanna Monteiro: “This year Hoover and Violet the macaroni penguins worked together to build the most impressive nest!” Pairs seen preening each other regularly will also get a gold star: Charlie and Mrs. Charlie, Phoebe and Fergus, Spud and Willow, Millie and Andre all score well here.
Endearing habits – such as chasing butterflies - caring for an older partner, males sitting on eggs while females take a break and the loyalty displayed in a long-term relationship can also get penguins on the good list. Working hard at incubation, even if it is in vain, is another characteristic that’s applauded. Rhyanna: “Yoyo did really well incubating a stone for Rocky rather than an egg this year! Rocky gets a call-out for supporting him in his efforts.”
Phil Knowling again: “Penguins living together in a colony are like people living together in a family. It’s all about how they get on with each other, the little niggles or the friendly acts, the social and anti-social behaviours.”
Naughtiness is not confined to penguins. Spectacled eider duck Cruella is not above chasing buggies and prams. Inca terns occasionally drop fish – or worse - on the heads of guests; staff are equipped with clean-up kits. Meanwhile, rare bank cormorants Manzi and Nandi enjoy wrecking the hard work of the zoo gardeners, ripping up plants and trampling them underfoot.
Naming and shaming might not change behaviour – but it’s a fascinating glimpse inside the complex world of penguins. Phil Knowling: “It’s easy to see penguins as little people, with their upright stance, arm-like flippers and jaunty walk. It’s even easier to see them as people when you know they can be naughty, nice, sneaky, loyal, mean and generous!”