A tour of the most unique kind

Penguins play tourists in the zoo

Penguins at the orangutan island. Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore

SINGAPORE - For the first time in its history, Singapore's four wildlife parks have closed their doors to visitors, joining the nation to activate the COVID-19 circuit breaker on 7 April 2020.

Whilst the Singapore Zoo animals are enjoying a quiet respite from the usual throngs of visitors during Singapore's social distancing measures, one group of furry creatures that is certainly enjoying its new found freedom is the zoo's African penguins.

The animals now play the part of tourists, venturing out of their exhibit two to three times a week as part of an enrichment programme initiated by their keepers.

These walks serve as an opportunity to discover new spaces, sights and sounds in the compound of the zoo. Aside from stimulating their minds, it is also a change from their normal routine.

Said the zoo's spokesperson: "Each walk lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. They are usually brought out on cool mornings, and have gone so far as the nearby playground, sealion sculptures and orangutan island, which are all adjacent to their exhibit."

Shorter but not stuck: penguins at the sealion sculptures. Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore

Just like typical tour guides, their keepers also keep a watchful eye on them during the walks to guide them and to do a headcount to ensure these stubby visitors are accounted for.

The penguins tend to move as a group- when one steps forward, the rest all follow. Hence, their keepers just have to encourage the lead penguin in the right direction, before the others naturally follow suit, unlike tourist groups which may have the odd one or two individuals who stray.

While people may be more familiar with penguins living on the freezing continent of Antarctica, African penguins can be found off the southwestern rocky coasts of Africa. They are nicknamed jackass penguins for the donkey-like braying sound that they make.

African penguins are classified as endangered under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their decline can be largely attributed to food shortages due to commercial fishing and environmental fluctuations.