They were the first ever seen in Europe and, with their inquisitive nature, waddling gait, black coats and white bibs, they rapidly became stars of the show. Now the penguins of Edinburgh Zoo are set to celebrate their 100th anniversary.
Edinburgh Zoo had been open for only six months when four king penguins, one gentoo and a macaroni arrived on 25 January 1914, after a 7,000-mile journey from South Georgia. Since the penguins’ arrival, Edinburgh has become a leading centre of penguin expertise. In 1919, the first king penguin born in the northern hemisphere arrived. The first macaroni chick born in captivity came in 1935, and two years later the zoo was the first to breed a gentoo chick.
Their fame grew when the zoo inadvertently pioneered its penguin parade in 1951. A keeper was reported to have left the penguin enclosure open and was promptly followed round the zoo by the occupants in single file which so delighted visitors the daily tradition was kept.
Colin Oulton, the zoo’s bird team leader, said: “To celebrate 100 years of caring for this curious species is a very special occasion. Historically, penguins have always been an important species for Edinburgh Zoo. Our knowledge and expertise also led to Edinburgh Zoo establishing the European breeding studbook for king and gentoo penguins.”
He said the daily parade was one of the few opportunities people have to get close to penguins. “The world may have changed a lot over the past century, but penguins have always remained a firm favourite with our visitors,” he added.