SAN DIEGO, Calif. (WDEF) The African penguins at the San Diego Zoo will soon have a new home. Construction is underway on the penguin habitat inside the Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks exhibit—the largest expansion in the Zoo’s history.
Nearly 30 cement trucks recently converged on the construction site, pouring cement to build the 200,000-gallon pool that will not only be home to the endangered African penguins, but also sharks and other fish.
“The penguin habitat at Africa Rocks is designed to look like Boulders Beach in South Africa,” said Steven Fobes, architect for San Diego Zoo Global. “The new habitat will feature rock work to mimic the granite boulders found at Boulders Beach, a beach with smooth cobblestones, and penguin nesting areas. Construction crews are working diligently on completing the habitat—from building guest pathways to placing the windows for the underwater and above-ground viewing areas.”
Currently, five African penguins reside in the Children’s Zoo—but this number will grow substantially when Africa Rocks’ penguin habitat opens in June.
“For the first time in over 30 years, the San Diego Zoo will have a new exhibit for African penguins, an endangered species whose population in the wild continues to decline at an alarming rate,” stated Dave Rimlinger, curator of birds, San Diego Zoo. “In our 100-year history, we have never had a penguin exhibit as colossal as the one being built as part of Africa Rocks. We can’t wait to share this new habitat with our guests.”
The iconic African penguin was once one of southern Africa’s most abundant seabirds, but has suffered a massive population decline—from an estimated 1 million breeding pairs to only 25,000 breeding pairs today. Historically, penguin eggs and guano were commercially harvested, which had a devastating effect on the population. Both of these practices were abolished toward the end of the 20th century. Currently, the biggest threats to the population include a lack of available fish due to overfishing, climate change, oil and marine pollution, habitat degradation and predation by seals, sharks and land-based predators.
San Diego Zoo Global is working to help build an assurance population as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ international Species Survival Plan for these endangered aquatic birds, and partners with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), working on conservation programs in South Africa.
Africa Rocks is a $68 million project that is transforming eight acres of the Zoo and replacing 1930s-era grottos and enclosures (formerly known as Cat and Dog Canyon) with new habitats for African plant and animal species that range from savanna to shore. Africa Rocks’ featured animal habitats include Western Cape Fynbos (where the penguins will reside), West African Forest, Acacia Woodland, Ethiopian Highlands, Kopje and Madagascar Forest. The Highland Garden will feature plants native to Africa.
In addition to African penguins, Africa Rocks will be home to other birds, reptiles, plant life native to Africa, and mammals—including hamadryas baboons, geladas, vervet monkeys and lemurs.
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.
*Photo by San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations