All My Penguins Season 2 Episode 5: The Bold and The Birdiful

August 19, 2018

Two African penguins in exhibit

At Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove, Erik will boldly go where no penguin has gone before.

Enrichment is an addition or modification to an animal’s habitat that enhances the environment, offers choices or challenges and encourages natural behaviors.

He waddles right up to a small inflatable shark pool toy, while the rest of the colony observes.

Erik is considered the “boldest” on the bold-shy spectrum, something that senior animal welfare scientist Katie Cronin, Ph.D, measured in order to better understand each penguin’s interest in and comfort with Malott Family Penguin Encounters.

It’s simple: bolder penguins will approach new or novel enrichment items in their habitat more quickly than the penguins that fall on the shy side of the spectrum, similar to how your boldest friend may be the first one to investigate a mysterious noise in your basement.

Cronin and the Animal Welfare Science Program team set out to determine if boldness correlated to each penguin’s participation in a Malott Family Penguin Encounter. Turns out, encounter participation favors the bold.

All Malott Family Penguin Encounter penguin participants participate voluntarily!

The penguins that were more likely to approach the various novel objects—a small inflatable shark toy, cardboard box and a large inflatable ball—were the same penguins most willing to participate in a Malott Family Penguin Encounter.

Let’s Back Up and Talk About the Process of this Personality Assessment

Cronin and animal welfare intern Sana Saiyed used an app called ZooMonitor, developed here at Lincoln Park Zoo, to record and monitor penguin behavior. Cronin worked with the penguin keepers to determine which objects the penguins would be interested in, but had not seen before. Mind you, penguins see all sorts of interesting and novel enrichment items that keepers and Behavioral Husbandry and Enrichment Manager Allison Kao incorporate into their habitat to elicit natural behaviors. These could range from mirrors and bubbles, to even laser pointers, which penguins track and chase in a natural hunting behavior.

275 organizations in 31 countries have registered for the ZooMonitor app to promote animal welfare!

First, Cronin and her team monitored and compared the difference in the time it took each penguin to approach a keeper sitting on a stool in the habitat with the time it took each penguin to approach the same keeper sitting on the same stool in the same location but holding a novel object. This allowed the team to determine how much slower or faster each penguin approached the keeper now that they were holding a new object.

So, who’s the boldest and who’s the shyest?

Boldest: Erik, Preston, Mandela and Dudley.
Shyest: Aiden, Robben, Maria and Madiba.

And why is this important to know?

Even though the zoo’s African penguins exist in a colony, our keepers care for each penguin individually. Whether it’s diet or environmental factors, what Erik needs will be different from what Madiba needs. The zoo’s Animal Care teams work closely with our animal welfare scientists to use data like this to provide the best individual care possible while promoting penguin welfare.

Interested in purchasing an enrichment item for an African penguin? Pick something out for your favorite penguin on the zoo’s Wish List.

Tune in next time for the All My Penguins season finale to see who’s preening who, whose feathers have been ruffled and how Oliver, the new chick on the block, is adjusting to life in the colony!