I took this photograph on the 11th of December at Birdland, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire. I never dreamt that I would ever be so close to a penguin, a king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonica) at that. It wasn’t just one. A small colony of them. A mini penguin rookery! A number of them were standing completely still, displaying with a justified pride their upright postures to the full… Some were pretending to ignore being watched so intently by over excited humans, at the same time taking advantage of their peripheral vision to ‘keep’ an eye on these unusual beings not as well dressed as them…. All acting high and mighty, a trait I dislike in people but absolutely love in animals.There were also a crowd of Humboldt Penguins ( Spheniscus humboldti) wobbling around, playfully hitting each other with their flippers and to the delights of the watchers, (including me of course) huddling closely at times which surely must be equivalent to hugging. Their playful calls echoed the squeals of delight coming from their zealous visitors. Unlike their larger cohabitants they seemed oblivious to anything other than one another.
Standing at such close proximity to these beautiful animals was truly amazing . A couple of king penguins came as near to the low fence separating us as they could. I watched them closely and was probably watched closely by them, in particular the one on the foreground of the photograph above. How beautiful they were…How well groomed…How magnificent.. Their environment here could never be identical to their natural surroundings but from my observations coupled with what I know of their natural surroundings ( Thanks to Sir David Attenborough and thanks to his masterpiece ‘Life on Earth’ ) it seems as close as it could get. The important thing is that they looked very healthy and I will go as far as saying very happy. Definitely happy. I couldn’t help but remember the film ‘Happy Feet’…
I am not very comfortable with seeing animals in zoos, aquariums or so called safari parks. I abhor the idea of animals ‘forced’ to perform. This is probably why I have always disliked circuses.The thought of animals being kept ‘captive’ upsets me hugely. Keeping wild animals as pets is beyond my comprehension. Killing animals for the fun of it and posing with them just to boast about it on Instagram or at fancy parties angers me immensely. Senseless individuals….senseless acts..Poaching animals for animal parts considered valuable ( ivory,an example of this that instantly comes to mind ), possessing medicinal properties (almost all proved to be false by science) and of commercial tradability (whales) is simply appalling. Natural selection was never meant to be this way. Darwin’s ‘Survival of the Fittest’ was not talking about the animals being lucky to escape the greediness of the most advanced (?) living things on Planet Earth. ..The Man.
On a more positive note, the realist in me knows that there are millions and millions of people out there who love animals and would never harm them. The optimist in me hopes that millions and millions more will come to realise the importance of it all. There are ecologists, environmentalists, charities, animal welfare groups…an endless list of organizations that work towards that one goal. There are so many people involved in animal welfare. I appreciate the good work carried out by a good number of animal sanctuaries, wildlife or otherwise. I like the idea of natural reserves.I like the idea of animals being looked after and being protected. The presence of safe havens for them comforts me.
I left Birdland with mixed emotions. Elated from seeing the penguins and all the other birds being so well looked after but aware that for some, these beautiful creatures are just a commodity. I turned around and had one last look at the king penguin in my photograph. He or she was still standing still in the same position.We were once again looking at each other knowing that we had more in common than not. I couldn’t compete with it in the fashion stakes but I have been told many times that I have a good posture!
We both cherished the moment…Who would argue otherwise?
( I dedicate this piece to my Biology teacher Mr.James, Whitefield Comprehensive School, Brent Cross, London NW2. Late 70s. He would have read the text, looked up, smiled and shook his head, ‘The name of the species should be in italics ‘ he would have commented. He would have been right as always. A wonderful teacher…)