Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Emily Scott
Visitors to the Decatur Scovill Zoo will soon be able to enter the world of a Humboldt penguin through an inventive new exhibit due to be completed this fall.
According to the zoo’s Assistant Director Ken Frye, plans for the new $1.5 million exhibit, as well as fundraising, began two years ago. The Decatur Park District held a fundraiser, and other funds have been raised through donations and bond issue.
Construction began in December 2012 and is on track to be completed by September 1.
The exhibit will house 10 Humboldt penguins from six different zoos across the country.
Features of the new construction will include an indoor holding area for the penguins, as well as an outdoor exhibit for the public. The outdoor portion will consist of a 5,000-gallon pool along with land area around it.
There will also be the option to get even closer to the penguins through the exhibit’s most innovative feature, an acrylic dome inside the pool that can be accessed by crawling through a small tunnel. Inside the dome, visitors will be able to view the penguins closer than ever before.
“This is the zoo’s most ambitious exhibit yet,” Frye said.
The incoming Humboldt penguins are warm-weather penguins that originate on the Pacific coast of South America. The Humboldt penguin is currently endangered due to commercial fishing and the harvesting of guano.
Commercial fishing in the Humboldt penguin’s habitat reduces their food supply significantly. Guano, which consists mostly of the penguin’s excrement for use of burrowing in their breeding habitat, is being harvested for fertilizer and leaves the penguins with no place for burrowing.
Many Humboldt penguins are now in protective areas like the ones coming to Scovill Zoo.
The construction process is 75 percent complete. “There have been some small delays with design, construction and weather,” said Frye, but other than that, construction has mostly been on track.
After construction is completed at the end of the August, arrangements will be made to start receiving the penguins in October.
“I think the exhibit will be very popular,” said Frye. “People are really excited about it. I hope they come out to see the penguins and then come back and see them again.”