Penguins don't fly, and 459 miles is a little too far to walk. The penguins in question may be called Rockhoppers, but the trip from Orlando, Florida, to Columbia, South Carolina, is more than their hopping ability can handle.
Riverbank Zoo in Columbia acquired a colony of 15 Rockhopper penguins from Sea World in Orlando. Two zoo personnel, Elizabeth Prouse and Jason Gunter, were sent to Florida to pick up the birds and to receive four days of training. In zoos, penguins are often exhibited in displays covered with man-made snow. This must be discarded daily so that the area can be disinfected before more snow is shoveled in.
Moving the birds required planning and effort. Penguins can't be put in a van and driven down the highway. They must be kept cool and comfortable in route. To accomplish the move, Frank's Quality Services Inc, a refrigeration service dealer in Lexington, South Carolina, donated the use of a 20-ft refrigerated truck. Frank Troglauer, president of Frank's, is a donor to the Columbia Riverbank Zoo and a member of its society.
Troglauer provided an Isuzu FTR chassis with a 20-ft Supreme body cooled by a Carrier Transicold Supra 722 refrigeration unit. It is part of a fleet of vehicles kept for short term rental or lease by Frank's. The fleet contains the one straight truck and 38 refrigerated trailers.
Some minor modifications were required to outfit the truck as a penguin express. To keep the birds off the metal floor, which would be slick and uncomfortable, the floor was covered with roughly one foot of man-made snow. A bulkhead was placed in the truck to confine the birds to the front half of the truck body.
In addition, lights were installed for the birds. The lighting was kept dim as a comfort factor for the penguins.
The interior lamps provided more than just a mobile night light. Transporting penguins is difficult because they tend to lose their balance whenever the vehicle brakes or turns, Troglauer says. “That goes on for the first several miles of a trip,” he says. “Every time the truck stops or turns, the birds fall over. They need the interior lights to reorient themselves so they can stand back up. However, they learn quickly. After about an hour, maybe less, they begin to sense the vehicle movement, make allowances for braking or turns, and quit falling.”
A refrigerated truck was used for a reason. Penguins need to be kept cool. The thermostat was set at 54°F for the trip. The birds would pay no attention to the mechanical noise of the unit, Sea World personnel told the truck driver.
The trip was remarkably uneventful, says Dave Jordan, service director at Frank's who drove the truck. It took about eight hours to drive to Orlando and about 11 hours to return. The extra time for the return was spent stopping for food and fuel as well as checking on the birds every couple of hours.
Dealing with the penguins was really amusing, Jordan says. “When we got ready to load them, they all lined up at the door to the building,” he says. “They would walk in line to the next door. We loaded them one at a time. The proper way to carry a penguin is like a football, under your arm. The difference is these footballs weigh 12 to 15 lbs.
“We found out why they are called Rockhoppers, too. If you squat down next to them, they will hop up and stand on your shoulder or head, just as if you were a big rock. They would peck a little, but were really pretty well-behaved. They don't make any noise as long as they can't see you. As soon as they do, they begin quacking just like a duck.”
The only questionable part of the trip involved people, not penguins. “As we passed the agricultural inspection station on the way out of Florida, we were waved through, but the two zoo personnel in the van following the truck were stopped,” Jordan says. “We stopped as well and then the Florida officials wanted to know what we were hauling. They asked for health records for the birds. When records were not fully available, we got a 45-minute lecture about hauling undocumented livestock. They said that if we had been coming into Florida instead of leaving that the birds, truck, and we would have been impounded until the proper records were produced.”