DENVER (CBS4) – A bird keeper at the Denver Zoo traveled to South Africa to help save penguins endangered in their native habitat. She traveled across the globe as part of a program the zoo offers its employees to continue the mission of conservation and support the species they showcase in Colorado.
“I really like penguins because of their unique personalities,” said Stephanie Hollister, a bird keeper at the Denver Zoo. “South Africa is a really beautiful place, it was really awesome to go there and get to see it.”
She says some penguins are friendly but others are not, she also finds some are more spirited. It’s that variety that has kept the bird keeper at the Zoo and around penguins. She was one of two staff members who traveled with South Africa to work with Sanccobb, a nonprofit focused on saving seabirds.
The work near Cape Town helps both chicks and adult penguins. The adults are abandoning chicks while in the molting process, where they eat a lot to fatten up and lose their feathers.
“African penguins are endangered and there’s a real possibility of them going extinct in the wild,” she said. “There is a huge threat to them.”
A lot of the penguins are sick, needing medication and feed tubing, Hollister said. She said there were days they needed to feed the bird four times, not only water and a fish formula but also electrolytes. The penguins are having trouble finding food and raising their young at the same time. The fish they depend on for food have migrated and the birds are not able to move with them.
“We have a number of core conversation programs that we’ve been working on in some cases for decades,” said Jake Kubie, the director of communications for the Denver Zoo.
The trip Hollister completed and her colleague is still participating in overseas is one of many each year funded by the Zoo. Visitors and members help to pay for these assignments. The zoo encourages its employees to seek out opportunities like the trip to South Africa and consider sending them as way to support conservation internationally.
“We also have an emergency conservation fund as well as a small grants fund that allows all of our animal care staff to take part of projects all over the world,” Kubie said.
There are other ways the public can also help save species like these penguins. The Seafood Watch app tells people which options are best for the ecosystem to buy and help reduce the threat to endangered species. The Denver Zoo is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which chose this species of bird as the pilot for its program SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. Hollister and others who worked with her in South Africa hope to get the penguins healthy enough so they can be released back in the wild.
The Denver Zoo has 20 different penguins of this species. Guests have the chance to meet and interact up close with the birds when they visit. The penguins will have a new exhibit space next year.
“Out there at the source, hopefully helping from keeping the African penguins from being extinct,” she said. “Everyone will care about them and hopefully try to help them so that they make it.”