Penguins in Europe for over 100 years | Polarjournal
Penguins have been kept and bred in zoological gardens for over 100 years. The first zoo in Europe was the Edinburgh Zoo which made history and is known for the breeding of penguins.

Visiting penguins at the zoo is a highlight for many, both children and adults. When these iconic birds, the epitome of Antarctica, make their walk through the zoos of the world, people always stop in fascination and smile and enjoy the sight. But it wasn’t too long ago that the first penguins were kept in zoological gardens. At Edinburgh Zoo, the animals were first seen in Europe, and their curious nature, waddling gait and appearance quickly made them the stars of the zoo. In January 2021, the Edinburgh penguins now celebrated the 107th anniversary of their arrival. Edinburgh Zoo also owns the largest ‘penguin pool’ in Europe.

1934 – Royal visit to Edinburgh Zoo by King George V and Queen Mary.

The zoo in Edinburgh, Scotland, had been open for just 6 months when four King penguins, one Gentoo penguin and one Macaroni penguin arrived as a gift from the Salvesen family on January 25, 1914, after a journey of nearly 12,000 kilometers from South Georgia. Since then, Edinburgh Zoo, one of the leading centres for penguin biology, has had a long list of successes. In 1919, the first King penguin in the northern hemisphere hatched here, followed by the first Rockhopper penguin hatch in 1935. Two years later, the first Gentoo penguin hatched in a zoo.

Edinburgh Zoo has had great success raising penguins in captivity for decades.

The end of the Second World War also almost meant the end of the penguins in Edinburgh, which perished due to poor nutrition. But from 1947 penguins were again brought to Edinburgh from South Georgia by the Salvesen family. And from 1951 the advance of the penguins was unstoppable. Because at that time they noted the first walk of penguins in the midst of zoo visitors. The story goes that a keeper accidentally left the enclosure open and the penguins promptly followed the keeper on his rounds through the zoo, walking in single file and much to the delight of the zoo visitors. Thus, this oversight became a tradition that still delights visitors in many zoos today.

Big crowd to mark the 40th anniversary of the first king penguin hatching at Edinburgh Zoo.

Colin Oulton, the zoo’s chief ornithologist commented on the 100th anniversary in January 2014: ʺIt is quite special to be able to celebrate the 100th anniversary for this very curious species. Historically, penguins have always been an important species for Edinburgh Zoo. Our knowledge and expertise has meant that here at the zoo we now manage the European studbooks for King and Gentoo penguinsʺ. He goes on to say that the daily penguin parades are one of the few opportunities for zoo visitors to get up close and personal with the animals. ʺThe world may have changed a lot in the last 100 years, but penguins have always been one of our visitors’ main favourites,ʺ he added.

Penguin parade at Edinburgh Zoo in the 1950s.

Edinburgh Zoo also boasts another highlight: the highest-ranking penguin with a title of nobility. Sir Nils Olav is the mascot of the Norwegian Royal Guard and was adopted by the troupe in 1972. Since then, the animal has climbed the career ladder and has been honorary colonel of the Guard since 2005. He was given special honour in 2008 when he received a knighthood from King Harald V in an elaborate ceremony. Since 2016, Sir Nils Olav has held the rank of Brigadier.

In 2016, Sir Nils Olav was promoted to brigadier by the Norwegian Guard. (Video: Edinburgh Zoo)

Today, about 600,000 visitors visit Edinburgh Zoo every year. The zoo is known for its three different penguin species, such as King penguins, the second largest penguin species in the world, Gentoo penguins and Rockhopper penguins. The first penguins arrived in Edinburgh through a whaling expedition in January 1914.

In total, there are over 100 penguins waddling through the facility. A highlight is the 65-metre long and 3.5-metre deep pool, which contains around 1.2 million litres of water. This is Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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