Observing the behavior and social interactions of zoo penguins as they transition to a larger and new environment

Eickholt, Genevieve, Matthew Heintz, and Rachelle Belanger

In 1968, the Detroit Zoo opened their first Penguinarium, a building designed specifically for penguins to live and be viewed by the public. It houses four species of penguins: gentoo (Pygoscelis papua), rockhopper (Eudyptes chrysocome), macaroni (Eudyptes chrysolophus), and king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), of all different ages. The current Penguinarium provides three habitats for penguins to roam, connected both by land and a continuous pool of water at depths of about 6 feet. In April of 2016, the penguins will be moving to the newly built, 33,000 square-foot Polk Penguin Conservation Center. This building will be much larger than the current Penguinarium, provide areas of water at depths of 25 feet, and will also have more stimulating environmental features. All of these factors will promote the species appropriate behaviors of the penguins in order to promote their optimal welfare. Twenty-seven penguins from the zoo penguin population are part of a large study on the transition of the penguins to the new building. The penguins are observed at specific periods of the day and each penguin can be identified by a specific sequence of beads worn on each flipper. This insures that the data is being collected on the correct penguin. Data is collected using scan sampling in which a given penguin’s location, proximity, and specific behavior (listed on an ethogram) is recorded every sixty seconds for a ten minute period. Also, all occurrence sampling is used, in which specific behaviors from the ethogram (displayed by the focal penguin) are recorded when they occur at any point during the ten minute period.  The observations collected from this major change in habitat are for the purpose of a larger, ongoing study being conducted by the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare (CZAW) at the Detroit Zoo. This data will be important in allowing the CZAW to determine how captive penguins deal with a considerable change in environment after living in the same habitat with a similar routine for many years. The study will also be important in determining what types of environmental features promote the best welfare for captive penguins.