There is a certain animal show in many zoos which is very popular among visitors: walking penguins on the road. Its popularity is not surprising, animals outside their enclosures are always interesting, and the clumsy, somewhat human-like toddling of the penguins is very funny to behold. Furthermore there is no need to worry about them escaping by running or flying away… Training the animals for this task is not too difficult, since this group movement is based on their natural behaviour. Nonetheless, this attraction – like other animal shows – is also a subject of criticism, both by experts and some animal right activists. In my opinion this question depends on the methods and context, but I’m open to debate and comments, of course.
I have already mentioned that the training of penguins for the walk is not a very complex task. It is based on their group movement; they follow the leaders and stay close to each other. So, you don’t have to train young chicks, neither do you have to feed them during the walk as a reward. However, choosing the appropriate route is essential; it should be clear and simple enough. The penguins should feel themselves safe – nervous and scared birds are unsuitable for doing any animal show. We also have to keep them safe from the visitors as many people – especially children – try to touch and sometimes chase the penguins.
The penguin walk is a really spectacular show, but we should never forget that a zoo context is different from that of circuses. We have to make the educational purposes clear and communicate well with the visitors and the media. Penguins are the representatives of the endangered sea creatures in zoos; we can use their popularity to raise public awareness.