There are several reasons for having penguins in captivity. Penguins are relatively easy to capture and transport, also they are animals that arouse sympathy and fascination, so it is not surprising that many people want to see them closely and even touch them. In this case, the most common form of captivity is that in zoos, aquariums, or similar parks for the entertainment and learning of the general public, but some other penguins require to stay captive for healing after an injury, illness, or even to preserve the species. On other occasions, researchers keep penguins to study them.
Penguins in zoos
Their history in zoos is not very recent, since, although they are not aggressive, they nest in areas of difficult access and they spend a lot of time on the ocean. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the XX century they were already familiar animals in several zoos of the world; For example, some posters invited people to visit the Penguins at Philadelphia Zoo, in the midst of the Depression. Usually, these birds adapt well to captivity, as long as they have the proper cares.
Keeping penguins in captivity and, animals in general, is a controversial issue, widely discussed. Zoos argue that, in theory, their display provide the general people the possibility of knowing and learning about the animals, and also, having penguins close allows them to study and understand their nature better. Achieving this goal requires that every zoo meet several conditions so that the animals develop in a healthy environment similar to its natural habitat. Also, these birds must receive medical attention.
According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the animals kept in zoos should get protection from any adverse weather conditions. The enclosures of the penguins, whose temperature oscillates around the 37.8º-38.9º C, have to be fresh and never hot, although this depends on the species. The physical characteristics of Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) adapted to the icy climate of Antarctica require freezing habitats.
Other requirements needed to simulate their habitat are an adequate lighting, enough food, ice and a pond with cold water. The temperature of this pool must have a temperature according to the species. For example, the Adelie and Emperor penguins need an environment with a temperature between 1°-7° C.
In contrast, the African, Magellan, and Humboldt penguins that live in temperate and warm climates feel comfortable if the water temperature is between 4º-18º C. If the penguins live in an optimal environment, they can survive longer than the individuals in the wild. For example, in 2013 the king penguin Missy, kept in captivity, reached 36 years old.
Penguins are accustomed to living in environments free of predators; this means that they must be safe from any intrusion in the place where they live. In a zoo, no one should provide food to a penguin, much less if it is commercial food because it is likely to be harmful to their body. Only the zoo keepers are indicated to feed them. Respect the rules!
The Problems of Captivity
They are known to be susceptible to contracting some infectious diseases, such as pododermatitis, which affect their legs when the bacteria reach the pool, and, if the facilities where they inhabit are not suitable, they may develop abnormal stress and exhibit unusual behaviors derived from this.
Some Adélie penguins that have been outdoors but in continuous contact with people have shown strange changes in their conduct; they leave their nests and stop feeding their chicks. An extreme case happened at Scarborough Sea Life Sanctuary in Great Britain. In 2014, the site managers had to administer antidepressants to their Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) because of the stress they experienced, attributed to the British climate, so different from their natural habitat.
Captivity is and will remain a controversial issue. Like wild animals, penguins deserve to live in their natural habitat, although sometimes the human intervention may be necessary. In conclusion, captivity is not necessarily right or not necessarily wrong, but ideally, they should stay in their habitat.
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