Twenty three years ago, when I came to the Moeraki lighthouse for the first time, it was to learn how to feed and handle penguins from Janice Jones – the then penguin lady of Moeraki. She showed me how to gently pull the penguin towards me and hold its beak while feeding it. This was the standard procedure of the time.
Roll forward to 2007 when I had a volunteer from Osaka, Japan, Makiko. She worked in an aquarium and cared for penguins as her day job. She showed me that penguins can learn to feed from the hand. In a zoo environment this is critical as penguins that don’t feed from the hand cannot be on public display – they must live out the back. Makiko was prepared to put a lot of effort into training the penguins and I soon learned that it was worthwhile – penguins in rehab did not have to be touched on a daily basis – particularly important during moulting.
The more I work with penguins the more I admire their abilities – they can fish and navigate under water, they can find their nests a long way from the shore – through changing vegetation. They can recognise other penguins and they can play, have time out and generally claim their environment as their own. I have now discovered that they can remember learned behaviour.
If a penguin has been in care before, it will take fish from the hand right from the first fish on arrival. We had a penguin that failed to fledge successfully in 2014 that came in injured this year and could remember how to feed from the hand. A lot of penguin behaviour is triggered by their environment and so here at the lighthouse we focus on having as natural an environment as possible. This is to reduce stress. Having a penguin feeding from the hand is less stress for the bird and speeds recovery.
Author: Rosalie Goldsworthy, WReNNZ Committee Member and Manager of Penguin Rescue at Moeraki Lighthouse in the South Island.