General Fiction posted December 31, 2021

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Fun behind the scenes at Lincoln Park Zoo

Feeding Penguins

by HarryT

I still remember the wonderful experience my father had arranged for my brother, Dom, age 6 and me, age 8. Dad was a friend of Marlin Perkins who was the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. He arranged with Mr. Perkins for us to visit the zoo early when the animals have breakfast. My heart was thumping as we approached a special gate. An overhead sign read, Employees Only. I looked at Dom. There was a grin of wonder on his face as we both pushed open the gate. The sun was bright, but the morning cool. Mr. Perkins stood with a brilliant smile, holding a cheetah cub.

“C’mon over,” he said, “and give this little guy a pet.”

We looked at each other and slowly approached, and I cautiously lifted my hand.

“It’s okay, he won’t bite. Just touch him lightly under his chin with your fingers.”

I reached over and did as Mr. Perkins said. The baby cub nuzzled my hand and gave it two licks. Dom did the same, but withdrew his hand quickly after the nuzzle.

Then Mr. Perkins said, “Come, boys, I want you to meet someone special. Her name is Rose.”

We walked past the monkeys, who were chattering up a storm, and then by two giraffes munching leaves high in the trees. We approached a smiling young lady. A large orange bucket stood next to her leg.

She waved at us and said, “C’mon, guys,” as she lifted the bucket a bit of water sloshed out onto the payment. “I’ll take you to the penguins who live in a cove made especially for them. It’s like the places they live in southern Africa. They are called African penguins and they are smaller than those Kings you usually see in pictures from the South Pole.”

Rose began working at the zoo after she finished high school. “I love the zoo and all the animals,” she said, “but especially like the penguins. I love how they waddle, like little old men, and they are really friendly too. Getting to feed them breakfast is fun and today you can feed them too.”

We danced beside Rose as she swung her bucket of fish and walked us toward the Penguin Cove. The little guys began diving from their cove into the water as soon as they spotted Rose coming with their breakfast. Several penguins clad in their feathery tuxedos, swam swiftly toward us. Rose held a fish in her hand and one jumped and took the fish right out of her hand. Several followed, doing the same thing.

Rose then said to both Dom and me, “Want to give them some fish?”

We both excitedly nodded our heads and dipped our hands into Rose’s bucket and pulled out a fish. The fish smelled like in the summer when dead smelt filled the beaches but the tuxedoed guys seemed to love them. Two penguins propelled themselves in circles, stretching their necks and opening their beaks. We each reached a fish over their heads and Voila they gobbled the fish right down, dove under the water and came around again.

Rose handed us a damp towel to clean our hands and said, “C’mon, I’ll show you how we feed the babies." She explained that in the wild, the adult penguins vomit food into the babies’ mouths.

I said, “Sure glad our mom didn’t do that when we were small.”

“Me too,” Rose said and continued, “Here, we make a special drink that resembles what the chick (that’s what a baby penguin is called) would get from their parents. The mixture contains fish, water and vitamins and combines to make a nutritious drink, like a milkshake.”

Dom piped up, “I like chocolate.”

Rose laughed and continued, “No chocolate for the babies, but they like their milkshakes warmed up.”

Several baby chicks waddled about waiting for Susie, the keeper in charge of the babies, to feed them with a small syringe. We watched her drop a few drops of the milkshake into the babies’ mouths.

Rose then pointed, “See the three over-there? They’re like teenagers.”

We looked over and there were three larger penguins waddling around, interacting with each other with soft squeeks and beeps and rotating their flippers.

“Tomorrow,” Rose said, “they will join the raft in the water.”

“I didn’t see no raft,” Dom said.

“Oh,” Rose smiled. “A raft is what we call a group of penguins when they are swimming together in the water. When they are on land, the group is called a waddle.”

“These penguin guys are really neat. It’s fun learning about them. I love to see them walking around. Oh, I mean waddling around. Thanks, Rose.”

“You are welcome. Now I’ll take you to Jacob. He’s in charge of the bears. I don’t think you will feed them, but you will have an interesting time.”


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