Animal Welfare: Penguin Project

Stephanie Allard, Ph.D., is the Director of Animal Welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society.

The Detroit Zoological Society is home to the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare. Among the goals of the center is to conduct research that can help us to better understand and improve the welfare of animals living in zoos. One of the ways in which we do this is by studying how the animals at the Zoo are interacting with each other and with their environment.

This type of research is really important when we are designing new habitats for the animals. The Zoo is currently constructing a new state-of-the-art Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC) that will house four species of penguins: king, macaroni, rockhopper and gentoo. The PPCC is designed to allow for a wide variety of species-appropriate behaviors and for the penguins to have greater choice and control in their environment.

The new habitat provides us with a greatopportunity to compare the behavior and well-being of the same group of penguins in two very different living spaces: their current home in the Penguinarium and their future home in the PPCC. This project is off to a great start! We collected behavioral data on a subset of penguins to test out our methodology and are now observing 27 of the penguins – something we will keep doing for a year after they move to the PPCC.

Technology is playing a part in this, as we are using data loggers, small trackers that some of the penguins will wear like a flipper bracelet that will tell us how much time they are spending in the water and at what depth.  This will be especially important in their new habitat, as that pool will be four times the depth of their current one.

If you see one of our data collectors in the Penguinarium during your next visit to the Zoo, ask them about this cool project!

– Dr. Stephanie Allard

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