Penguins

October 21, 2013

Penguin poop is plentiful and pungent

Zookeepers will have to clean the exhibit daily, even take to SCUBA diving.

It’s been called sour. It’s been described as an earthy, barnyard odor.

A National Public Radio report likened it to tobacco soaked in ammonia, mixed with rotten shrimp and left in the sun for a few days.

Whew! It’s penguin poop, and it’s not pleasant.

The dozens of penguins in the Kansas City Zoo’s new exhibit will produce a lot of it. The birds will be fed three times daily, mainly herring and capelin, a small fish of the smelt family. Krill. Occasional squid, perhaps.

A king penguin might eat three pounds of fish a day.

Penguins don’t have teeth, so whatever they eat goes down whole — and it shoots out in gooey lines of guano.

“Fish goes through them fairly rapidly,” said Sean Putney, director of living collections at the zoo.

The outdoor portion of the Kansas City exhibit, for warm-weather penguins, will have a glass wall about 5 feet high and a ventilation system that is supposed to nudge the odor away from visitors.

Inside the penguin building, the birds and their smell will all be behind glass.

But that doesn’t mean zookeepers won’t have to deal with it, and the poop.

“They’ll be out there (in the exhibit) with scrub brushes every day,” said Putney. “They’ll be spraying down and cleaning that exhibit every day, first thing, sometimes on their hands and knees.”

The zoo can’t take the chance of bacteria building up — and penguin guano causes stains.

“Of course the birds will

go

in the water, too, so the keepers will be diving in there and cleaning that out,” Putney said. “They’ll all be SCUBA certified and they’ll probably have to dive somewhere around three times a week to clean that.

“But all of them are used to cleaning up polar bear poop.”

There are showers in the building where the keepers can clean up.

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