BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim channeled his inner Doctor Doolittle on Thursday, climbing into the Beardsley Zoo’s freshly opened penguin exhibit to try to make a few flightless friends with a fish or two.
But the birds — males Tubbs, Sal and South and female Squirt — weren’t taking the bait. They were too engrossed watching the throngs of schoolchildren crowded around new temporary exhibit open now through Sept. 30 near the zoo’s carousel.
African penguins are one of five critically endangered species that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is highlighting this year as part of its Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program, according to Gregg Dancho, the zoo’s director.
“One of the cornerstones of our zoo is conservation,” said Dancho, who joined the mayor in cutting the ribbon on Penguin Plaza. “This is the first time we’ve had penguins here. We’re hoping to have a lot of people come to see them, of course.”
Though they’re most at home in South Africa, the four penguins at the zoo were born and raised at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Florida. Climate change has caused a decrease in their natural food sources, so zoos are trying to raise awareness through temporary exhibits throughout the country, Dancho said.
African penguins are about 60 centimeters tall and weigh about 8 pounds. Each eats about a pound of small fish, such as anchovies and sardines, a day.
Squirt and Sal are mates for life, but Tubbs and South are still playing the field, Dancho said.
Sporting a tie and dress shoes, Ganim stepped into the enclosure and climbed around the 30,000-gallon pool for several minutes, hoping to feed one of the birds by hand. He seemed excited as the kids on field trips to see the birds up close.
“What a great attraction this is, not just for the city of Bridgeport, but for the entire state,” he said, noting that Beardsley Zoo is the only zoo in Connecticut.
The Beardsley Zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more, visit the website .
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