Chronicle Preview: A look at the Aviary’s New Penguin Exhibit


Stanley stood high on the rock, looking down at the water below. The day was hot, and the sun was out, but he didn’t want to go into the water. Even when he was forced to go in, he would climb back out.

But that’s normal, because Stanley is gaining weight in preparation for molting, and is afraid to go into the water at the new penguin exhibit at the National Aviary. The exhibit, complete with outdoor and indoor viewing areas, will open to the public May 23.

(See a video explaining the purpose of the exhibit here)

Erin Estelle, the manager of community outreach and the Aviary staffer overseeing the construction efforts, said that the new exhibit will be especially popular since the penguins have only been available to the public through special viewings and shows.

With the new exhibit, visitors can walk outside and see the penguin habitat in an open air environment. An indoor viewing area during inclement weather is available too. And for children, there are special crawl tunnels that lead to the middle of the habitat, where they can stand up and have a 360 degree view through a special glass bubble.

(For an explanation of the kid tunnels, click here.)

The new exhibit also houses six more penguins, who are yet unnamed, to join the original five. The naming rights for the penguins will be auctioned off to raise money for the Aviary and its programs. For an extra fee, the Aviary will also offer special moments with the penguins, including being able to feed them, as well as having an animal expert there to help.

“That’s an experience for the die hard penguin fan out there,” Estelle said.

(For a gallery of pictures of the new exhibit, click here.)

Even though it will be quite easy for visitors to reach over the separation and touch the penguins, Estelle warned against it. Although penguins are not aggressive, they don’t like being touched by people they don’t know.

“Just like how you wouldn’t want to be touched by a stranger, neither does a penguin,” Estelle said.

(For a bief video on penguin swimming habits, click here.)

A large portion of the new exhibit will be materials and messages about the penguin habitat, eating habits and an overlying message of conservation and sustainability. Not only will there be posters featuring information, there are facts printed on the walking path in the exhibit itself detailing the decline of penguin populations.

Inside is also a touch screen television that gives older children and adults the ability to learn about each penguin, or view the exhibit through different webcams positioned inside.

Also included in future expansion plans is a theater for birds, a green roof for raptor flight demonstrations, a café and new classrooms. Further into the future is a new façade for the Aviary, a pedestrian entrance and a new gift shop.

“If there is someone who is walking from the neighborhood they can just walk right in,” Estelle said.

The expansion plans are scheduled to be completed June 2010.  Flinn said that the completed expansion will not only make the Aviary an even greater community asset, but will benefit the entire Pittsburgh area by attracting tourists.

“The reinvigorated facilities will not only be a cultural gem for the people and families of Pittsburgh to enjoy, it will also become a leading destination for out-of-town visitors, furthering the Aviary’s national status and commitment to excellence.

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