Kissing a penguin was not on my to-do list, but that is exactly what happened! Where was I? The Antarctic? South Africa? A zoo? How about a shopping mall in a desert city?
Lucky enough to be invited 'backstage' by a wonderful keeper and always up for a new experience, I leapt at the chance.
Kitted out in thermal boots and huge coat, we headed to the -4 celcius area. First stop, the vital and complex filtration system, complete with protein skimmer (think ocean froth) and huge tank of 'good bacteria’, a lesson in recycling water. Next stop, the kitchen, where each penguin’s colour coded cool box contains their personal daily allowance of fish and krill. Daily weighing is vital to monitor health as their weight can double premoult. Posters of each penguin, show trainer, partner and offspring. Penguins generally choose their own partner, sometimes for life or sometimes for swapsies ;)
Each penguin is assigned a trainer, sometimes while still in the egg, which forms terrific bird human bond which has to be seen to be believed. Notoriously slapdash parents, the keepers can step in. However, I see some, facing the wall like naughty school children, incubating eggs, as the bump under their 'skirt' revealed. Some timeshare this role with spouses just as in the wild. Penguins (Gentoo and King) waddled amongst us, greeting the trainer and investigating me with long, strong, inquisitive beaks.
Ski Dubai is a world class facility for multi-generational global research and exceeds standards set by the international Penguin Taxon Advisory Group. With ten of the eighteen penguin species IUCN listed as threatened, visitors are made aware of the need for research and action while getting up close and personal with these charismatic critters.
I saw, heard and felt the knowledge, respect and passion of the staff towards these dapper chaps and spent the rest of the day with a stupid grin on my face.
So, that kiss...