San Diego Zoo Global is getting into the reality TV game with its web series: “Penguin Beach” set to hit the airwaves Thursday, Oct. 10, two days before African Penguin Awareness Day—on Facebook, Instagram TV, and YouTube.
The show will focus on the dramatic, hilarious and often unexpected social dynamics of the San Diego Zoo’s colony of endangered African penguins.
“This is still a new colony, so it’s been amazing to watch the penguins’ personalities unfold over the past two years,” said Lara Jones, a keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Dan and Vi McKinney Penguin Habitat in Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks. “They are definitely a wild bunch, so the viewers can expect a wide range of behaviors that will make you laugh, cry and possibly fall in love with each of the characters.”
The opening episode of “Penguin Beach” follows Jack, the newest resident of the colony, as he tries to figure out his role while avoiding conflicts with his adult penguin neighbors. Throughout the series, viewers will learn about the many facets of life at Penguin Beach, including the penguins’ individual personalities and how they handle disagreements with their mates and their neighbors. San Diego Zoo animal care staff will provide commentary, addressing “drama” in the colony and offering information about these birds’ natural behaviors.
The Zoo’s penguin colony is a part of the San Diego Zoo Global’s overall penguin conservation initiative. The organization participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) program for these aquatic birds and partners with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), to help facilitate conservation programs in South Africa.
The African penguin is listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Once one of southern Africa’s most abundant seabirds, the species has suffered a massive population decline—from an estimated 1 million breeding pairs to only 23,000 breeding pairs today, a population decrease of more than 60 percent in the past 28 years.
Historically, penguin eggs and guano were commercially harvested, which had a devastating effect on the population. Although both practices were abolished toward the end of the 20th century, other threats—including a lack of readily available food due to overfishing, climate change, oil and marine pollution, the emergence of avian influenza A (H5N8) virus and habitat degradation—contribute to a continuing population decline.
Zoo guests can visit Jack and the rest of the “stars” of “Penguin Beach” at their home in the Dan and Vi McKinney Penguin Habitat inside Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks. Their habitat features a rocky beach, penguin nesting areas and rockwork that mimics the granite boulders found at Boulders Beach in South Africa. There’s also a 200,000-gallon saltwater pool for the penguins that stretches 170 feet, with depths up to 13 feet.