Just like at the Oscars, the red carpet came rolling out well before the stars arrived Sunday afternoon. The stanchions went up, too, to keep the adoring throngs safely away from the celebrities.
Because unlike in Hollywood, these celebs can bite.
The paparazzi showed up, too — in this case a modest gaggle of parents armed with cellphones.
A few minutes after 1 p.m. a door a few feet from the red carpet inside the Kansas City Zoo’s $15 million Helzberg Penguin Plaza opened up. The stars of the show, Monster and Hota, waddled out.
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But they weren’t quite ready for their close-up. They ignored the five zoo employees trying to escort them toward the red carpet and waddled off on their own. As the little birds scurried off, running toward the legs of one zoo visitor, a handler called out a warning: “Please don’t touch them!”
A round of gentle but determined cooing ensued, the handlers sounding like movie directors trying to coax recalcitrant child actors.
“Come on guys!”
“You’re almost at your spot!”
The birds were eventually herded back on track, and one toddled so fast down the incline of the walkway that it almost took a header.
Hey, did someone get that for YouTube?
One of the handlers, noticing a white splash of bird mess on the floor, laughingly told visitors to “don’t mind the poops.”
Once Monster and Hota found their way to the red carpet, they worked it like pros, not one wardrobe malfunction in sight.
Sunday afternoon’s Penguin Waddle helped celebrate the one-year anniversary of the penguin plaza, which opened on Oct. 25, 2013.
Since they’ve moved in, the penguins have racked up Oscar-worthy stats: Nearly 955,000 people have visited the exhibit since its opening and zoo officials expect that number to exceed 1 million by the end of this year.
The zoo hadn’t had penguins since the 1950s, and clearly there’s some pent-up penguin love out there.
“They have this allure, rock-star power if you will, for the public that comes in here,” said Sean Putney, the zoo’s director of living collections.
Sure, some of that might be the new-kid-on-the-block syndrome, he said. But it’s also the placement of the penguins’ new home on the zoo’s main drag, making them easy to find, he said, and there’s no denying their appeal to the movie-going public.
Do the titles “Happy Feet” and “Madagascar” ring a bell?
“I think penguins have that sense of awe about them, and there have been a lot of movies lately, going back to that star factor,” said Putney.
That was clear in the faces of the handful of kids who watched the red-carpet show on Sunday. A trainer wearing a bucket of fish worked to hold Monster’s attention as his sidekick just sort of gawked at the crowd.
The penguins made their first red-carpet appearance over the summer at the annual Jazzoo fund-raiser. People enjoyed the chance to get up-close so much that the zoo decided to do it again, holding Penguin Waddles every weekend this month.
“I think they’ve come a little ways,” Putney said. “It took some a while before they got used to it. We’ll probably start to do things like this more. A lot of it has to do with trust and the relationship they have with the trainer.
“The more they do it the more they’ll get used to it and they’ll feel safe, and as long as they feel safe, then they won’t mind doing it, and that’s the goal. And that’s why we don’t do it in the middle of summer when there’s 5,000 kids running around.”
Eight-year-old Fernanda Becerra of Olathe couldn’t take her eyes off the birds. Her mom and dad brought her and her sisters to see them. “They’re so small and they look like they like to play a lot,” said Fernanda.
Soon, there could be even more birds for her to visit. Putney said zoo officials have just confirmed that two penguin eggs are fertile and could hatch in late December.
When Monster and Hota — two Humboldt penugins — were done with their 15-minute appearance, they were hustled back into their indoor-outdoor pool.
Alas, the little guys got away before the press was were able to shout out the requisite red-carpet question: “What are you wearing?”
To contact Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holidays with the penguins
What: The last Penguin Waddles of the month will take place at 1 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Also: Santa Claus will swim underwater with the penguins at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In December he will dive with them at 1 p.m. on the first three Saturdays and Sundays.