What's new at Basel Zoo

You know it’s winter at Basel Zoo when the penguins start going for their winter walks. The king and Gentoo penguins are now making their way over the bridge from the vivarium to their outdoor enclosure every day at 11 a.m., which is cause for great excitement for the many children who accompany them on their walk.

The penguins are only allowed to walk from their cool indoor enclosure to their outdoor enclosure once temperatures in the autumn have dropped to below 10 degrees at 11 a.m. On warmer days, this walk would be a strenuous undertaking for the penguins. Their dense plumage and thick layer of blubber under their skin provide excellent insulation against the cold both on land and in water. They also generate their own heat while walking, which helps keep them warm in cold weather. However, when it is warm outside, they cannot get rid of the extra body heat they produce while walking, which can then cause them health problems.

The king penguins go first

Basel Zoo is home to 17 king penguins and 9 Gentoo penguins. For the smaller Gentoo penguins, the walks across to the outdoor enclosures always begin a little later in the year. Gentoo penguins are very curious animals and pick up stones, branches, foliage and other objects (whatever takes their fancy!) with their beaks and proudly carry their ‘finds’ around with them. Unfortunately, they sometimes swallow what they find, which can be dangerous for their health. They are therefore only allowed to walk over to the outdoor enclosure when there is not as much foliage on the trees and the outdoor enclosure is free of any tempting objects that could be dangerous for them.

Special preferences

Gentoo penguins' interest in everything around them has a lot to do with their breeding habits. In the wild, Gentoo and king penguins breed on sub-Antarctic islands where there are no trees or bushes, but a lot of stones. A Gentoo penguin’s nest therefore consists entirely of stones. During the breeding season, they avidly collect small stones and gift them to their partners.

King penguins, on the other hand, don’t build nests. Instead, they incubate their eggs on the top of their feet, and so are not interested in any objects lying around nearby.