Edinburgh Zoo’s popular penguin parade is set to make a return following a £750,000 refurbishment of the animals’ enclosure – but newest cast members who keep wandering off - are getting a little guidance from the old stagers before the hit 105-strong troupe make a return to public performances.
Boot camp is now underway and up to 20 new one- and two-year-old Gentoo penguins are being put through their paces as keepers stage several trial runs over the coming weeks.
Darren McGarry, head of Living Collections at Edinburgh Zoo, said: “Now that our revamped penguin enclosure, Penguins Rock, has reopened to visitors and our birds have had a chance to settle into their new home, we’re looking forward to starting up our famous Penguin Parade once again.
“The majority of our birds are original Edinburgh Zoo birds that recently returned after their holidays in Belfast and Denmark, but we also have a mix of new one- and two-year-old penguins that have either just come to live with us at the zoo or who were born during the 2012 breeding season.
“Over the next couple of weeks our keepers are doing practice runs with our penguins to remind the old birds of the penguin parade and get the new birds familiar with the route.”
During work on the enclosure, a number of birds were shipped to Belfast Zoo and Odense Zoo in Denmark.
This year marks 61 years since the beginning of the famous penguin parade, which began after a Gentoo penguin escaped through an unsecured gate.
Instead of capturing it, the keeper decided to allow other penguins to follow, and together they marched around the zoo and down on to Corstorphine Road.
Penguin keepers have been keen to stress that no incentives are offered to entice the birds into taking part in the long-standing tradition.
Mr McGarry said: “The parade is totally optional for the penguins. We don’t use fish or anything else to encourage them to take part – the birds join in the parade as they enjoy it.
“A number of our Gentoo penguins are penguin parade regulars who often take part, so we’re sure they’ll be back up to speed in no time at all.
“Our practice runs are taking place under the radar just now and not at set times, so I would encourage visitors to wait until we officially relaunch to come to see our famous parade once again.”
Visitors will also have to wait a little longer to see the return of the zoo’s five king penguins, led by Sir Nils Olav, as the warmer weather down in Gloucestershire has meant they are moulting weeks earlier than normal.
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The new enclosure, entitled Penguins Rock, features lowered perimeters made from glass and wood that allow visitors to get closer to the birds.
Enhanced viewing areas have also been created, as well as mock sandy beaches and rocky areas which provide the birds with textures that are perfect for their feet.
Visitors can also see the birds have fun with a new stone waterfall feature and a water chute in the shallow end of the pool.
Behind the scenes the development includes the introduction of a state-of-the-art filtration system.