January 24, 2003

Penquins and Sex Part 2

The penguins are at it again. I seem to be haunted by penguin stories. It must be one of those past life things.

I am sure that you will recall my report in this space last Spring of the plight of the male Emperor penguins. In Antartica, which in the cold air of today feels close by, the females lay their eggs, hand them off to the males and then take off for the winter. The males are left standing there on the ice with their buddies for the entire winter with no food. At the time, this story distressed me.

Well, I was not alone. After my exposé, word of this travesty reached the penguin population of the Untied States. Protests have been mounting in zoos and aquariums across the country. Until recently the people in charge have been able to keep the information under wraps and away from the media. But the story has become too big to contain.

Last week USA Today reported on strange happenings at the San Francisco Zoo. On December 24, six Magellannic penguins were transferred from Sea World to the zoo. They joined the existing penguin population at the zoo who normally spend winter in their burrows, coming out for an occasional swim. Within two hours of their arrival, the new kids on the block reportedly “convinced the entire flock to leave their burrows” and fifty two penguins began swimming laps around the pool in unison for hours and hours.
They have confounded zookeepers. “We’ve lost all control,” one said. The keepers attempted to regain control by emptying the pool for cleaning. The penguins just jumped in and started marching around the pool.

The zoo claims that the behavior of the penguins is a mock migration. I know better. I know a protest march when I see one. I recognize solidarity. It was only a matter of time before the world wide movement lamenting the brother penguins in Antartica exploded. There is no turning back now.

Some interesting side issues to this protest movement exist. Breeding season begins next month for the penguins at the San Francisco Zoo and the zookeepers are worried. “It may be a very stimulating breeding season,” one said. “Stimulating.” Now there is an understatement. These little penguins are jazzed. The brothers are angry. They are on fire. This could be an interesting melding of the protest movement and sex.

It is no accident that this movement has broken out at the San Francisco Zoo. This zoo manages the “studbook” for all the penguins in facilities in the United States. While doing research for this story I discovered that this zoo is the epicenter for animal sex in this country. In addition to maintaining the studbook for penguins, it holds (in their words) “widely popular Sex Tours.”

The “14th Annual Valentine’s Day Sex Tour” is coming up. It is billed as an “engaging event” and features “up-close encounters with animals.” Do I dare say more? Do I dare try to guess what this Sex Tour is all about?

I am worried that the penguins will use this year’s Sex Tour as a platform for their burgeoning protest movement. What better time to shine the light on the bondage of male penguins? What better time to unite the brothers of the animal kingdom and beyond?

Fortunately, we on the East Coast are far away from this mixture of protest and sex. Also fortunately, everything in California eventually makes it to the East Coast. But until then we will have to limp along on our frozen, puritan ideas of fun.