Shanet Rutgers is a Senior Animal Keeper at the Two Oceans Aquarium, who is in charge of the care of the Aquarium's seabirds, including the much-loved penguins. Shanet's relationship with these birds began when she first became a volunteer at the Aquarium in school, after completing a Young Biologist course, so she knows a thing or two about the personalities and shenanigans of our penguins!
Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our penguin lives. Ever wondered what penguins are thinking about, and what they do on a daily basis? Well, the penguins at the Two Oceans Aquarium have lots to tell and so much more to show.
The Two Oceans Aquarium is home to 23 African penguins and 13 rockhopper penguins, with each species living on its own beach. Animal keepers are always on the lookout for changes in the behaviour of the animals in their care. These changes, and the general overall behaviour of an animal, are signals to an animal keeper about what is going on with the animal and, in the case of the penguins at the Aquarium, the colony. Life on the penguin beach can be funny and sometimes even involves a bit of drama for our penguins. The Aquarium penguins have lots to tell through their personalities, behaviour and characteristics. Let’s meet a couple of the "characters" in the daily soap opera that takes place between these quirky animals.
Ayah – our one-eyed African penguin pirate
Ayah has a very special place in my heart as he is our miracle penguin. He lost his eye during an altercation with another penguin, but this does not stop him from causing mischief on the beach. We have a couple of “stirrers” on the beach and Ayah is definitely one of them. This little guy is known as the flirt and, if he could, he would snatch every female (single or not) for himself. He likes starting small fights and then quietly retreating to watch the unfolding drama from a distance.
Diesel – our voluptuous lady
The general thought around female penguins is that they are slightly smaller and perhaps a bit more “petite” compared to the males. Diesel definitely does not fit this description at all. She has a very healthy appetite and has transformed her body into a lovely pear shape - she is the poster child for body positivity. She is also the messiest eater! Diesel can eat up to nine fish a day and often carries take-aways with her after the feed. Sometimes she even runs off with a fish in fear of it being intercepted by another bird.
Annuli – he thinks he can fly
Annuli can sometimes just be otherwise. He is basically another Ayah and likes to stir things up at feeding times by frantically running around on the beach and chasing all the birds into a corner - just because he can. When he does this, the rest of the penguins become very confused and scatter all over the place.
Zuki and Nonu – the wise old nosy parkers on the beach
Zuki is one of our gentle female birds that hatched at the Aquarium in 2009. She met Nonu in 2012 and they have been together ever since. Zuki does not interact with the rest of the birds on the beach, but prefers to watch them. If they become too boisterous while she is out and about, she pushes them into the water. Zuki definitely gets her way. Her mate Nonu is very loving and always checks up on her while protecting the nest.
Tasmyn, Faraday, Peri, Chuck, Alex and Grommet – The Pirates of the Penguin Beach
These rockhopper penguins are expert nesting material thieves. Woe to any penguin that leaves its nesting material unattended! It is 100% guaranteed that if these guys are around, a penguin that leaves its nest for a swim will come back to a nest devoid of nesting material.
Clax, Harold Custard and Chippy-Goodwill – sibling rivalry
The saying goes: Family is like fish - after three days, they both go off. Well, this is so true for these three siblings. They just don’t seem to get along. They are forever fighting for attention.
EL – Same, same but different
EL is the youngest penguin, but has the biggest personality. She is very sure of herself and will take on any penguin bigger than her. She often thinks she owns the rockies' beach and wants to be on top of everything.
Jasmin – Little Miss Nosey
Jasmin is like the dreamer of the rockhopper family and can often be seen in the nests of the other birds, trying to find out "what’s the tea?" She is super-adorable and just wants to be in with the Beakhams (Roxy, Grommet and their kiddos).
Chippy-Goodwill – I want it and I want it NOW
Chippy still thinks he is the only child and is always seeking attention from the keepers. He will dawdle behind the other birds when walking between their exhibits, and if the keepers are not happy with him walking slowly, he will throw a tantrum. He always brays about everything and anything that is on the beach. Harold and Chippy have feeding stations next to one another and they are fed the same amount. Chippy always seems to want more than Harold and always has needy “puppy dog” eyes, pleading for more.
Harold Custard – she’s got sass, she’s got style, and she knows it
If birds could carry handbags and talk, Harold Custard would be dressed from head to toe in designer wear and would be "passing" everyone around her. She has the sassiest walk, like she owns the runway, and always wears her crests in pristine shape. She has a slight gallop to her walk and loves being the centre of attention.
When it comes to walking our rockies from their resident beach to their day exhibit, all sorts of penguin characters show up, and all the birds want some attention from the keepers and visitors walking alongside them. Every day can be an eventful day – for us humans and for penguins. This is what makes every day rewarding when working with extraordinary species because, like humans, we all have our moments. The Aquarium’s African penguins generally don’t move off their beach apart from some of the tame birds, but just spending some time on the beach with them can be as rewarding as walking the rockies from one exhibit to another.
So, which member of our daily penguin soap opera cast is your favourite?