30 January 2013

Come march with us!

Hayley McLellan – Senior Bird Trainer at Two Oceans Aquarium

Personally, I cannot imagine that many working people begin their day in as unique a way as I do!
I am greeted each morning by the loud, welcoming chorus of African and rockhopper penguins. Taking care of 14 African penguins and seven rockhopper penguins makes for very interesting and entertaining social interactions daily.

african penguin two oceans aquarium cape town
The African penguin. All photos by Two Oceans Aquarium

There is nothing like the loving attention of an animal to calm my soul. I am lucky to have Laduma in the colony; as a partially human-reared penguin, she enjoys the attention I lavish on her. Please do not be fooled into thinking you may do this in the wild with any African penguin. Remember, they are a protected species, and also very territorial and vicious as a rule.

“Until someone loves an animal, a part of their soul remains unawakened” – Anatole France

After paying a morning visit to both colonies to check that all is as it should be, and connecting with each individual through the sound of my voice and maybe a cuddle too, it is time for me to prepare a breakfast of pilchards for my crew. Each bird has a name, and very precise record-keeping is vital in terms of keeping track of individual health as well as budgets.

Depending on the season, each bird is eager for breakfast

The two species are different in so many ways, and so their handling also differs. The African penguins generally wish to be left to their own devices, while the rockhoppers happily allow me to walk them to their outdoor exhibit each morning – and some of them are even quite interactive with people. Shifting exhibits forms an important part of their daily enrichment, too.

Our very own march of the penguins to the Marion Island exhibit

As penguins have a quick metabolism, they need to eat often. Three meals are on offer every day. The presentation of the African penguins to our guests allows me to highlight this endangered species, and what each person can do to make the difference required for all species to survive on this planet.

Important campaign work through Penguin Promises focuses on how people can easily make a positive contribution to the environment in the way that they live their lives every day. The campaign slogan clearly states: “We don’t want your money honey, we want your love.” So be sure to visit the site and help the African penguin through your actions, not your wallet!

I feel inspired with every opportunity I have to chat to people about the endemic African penguin, also known as the jackass penguin for the loud braying sound they make when communicating with one another.

Each guest is hearing this information for the first time, so it is important that I remain passionate and inspirational! Luckily, one cannot help but be inspired by a penguin, so I do have some help here …

My day winds down with chaperoning the rockies back to the Sappi River Meander for the night. This late-afternoon march is incredibly popular with our guests, and I have known people to come and visit us just for this experience. Cool, huh?

Another experience worth mentioning is the penguin encounter with the rockies, which happens every day, except Mondays, at 11am. There is a fee to be paid and a portion of this is channelled to conservation of the African penguin species. “Penguins helping penguins,” as I like to say …

Call us soon to make your booking!

Overheard from a guest: “Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this, ever!”

The day works best with structure for the animals, of which I am one! Before we know it, another successful day of animal care and edutainment is over. I forgive you for thinking I get paid to play all day … it’s no wonder I always go home with a smile!

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” – Confucius

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