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The Daily Illini

Letter to the Editor: Having a penguin at a bar was wrong


When I heard about Blueberry, the penguin who would be visiting KAM’S for “penguin happy hour” in order to raise awareness about penguin conservation, I knew something was up. I decided to visit the event to see if this was an actual penguin and see how “Wave Foundation,” the aquarium that owns Blueberry, could possibly hope to promote conservation by bringing a penguin to a bar.

I knew things were bad when I asked the person at the front where the penguin was at and was told, “You can see him on the dance floor.” This was not a joke. The music was blaring, people were yelling and in the middle of all this on the corner of the dance floor, was Blueberry the penguin. The penguin was shifting agitatedly in a glass box, continuously flashed by camera lights while numerous students posed next to it. Occasionally some of the more inebriated attendees attempted to touch it. There was no talk of “conservation,” the handlers did not share any facts about penguin “habitats” it was simply an entertainment-based activity where you take a picture and leave.

As a current vet student, I wanted to have a rational discussion about animal welfare with Blueberry’s handlers. I made the decision to approach them in a calm and logical manner, but when I asked Blueberry’s handler about the conservational purpose of the event and the penguin’s treatment, I was asked to leave before I could even finish my sentence.

I know that sometimes perceptions of animal mistreatment can differ between individuals, so I looked up the official Association of Zoos and Aquariums guidelines in order to see if the Wave Foundation’s penguin treatment violated them. It did on many levels.

Firstly, according to the standards, penguins are only allowed to be used as program animals if: “Education and a meaningful conservation message are integral components of the presentation. The individual animals involved are consistently maintained in a manner that meets their social, physical, behavioral, and nutritional needs.” And secondly, the guidelines state that “Penguins should be allowed to move a comfortable flight distance, a minimum of four feet, from the public” (Penguin Care Manual: AZA Animal Welfare Committee.)

As you can see by my account, and any video evidence of the event, this is clearly not the case. It was so disappointing and disheartening to see this clear violation of animal welfare occur on campus. Even if this event was raising money for conservation, there are many ways to raise funding without subjecting penguins to this sort of treatment. Conservational programs are a great way to spread awareness, but they must be done in a safe and humane environment, not a bar on a Friday night.

Samar Khan is a freshman in LAS. 

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2 Comments

  • Jason Pankoke

    Good observation, Samar. This reminds me of reports of a vendor at one of the C-U summertime events having or selling sugar gliders (I think) in the midst of all that ruckus. Stunts like this with wild animals (even if they are tamed somehow) are so 19th century.

  • Steve Gone

    Yep could potentially send pretty confusing message .For most people when you start seeing a penguin in a bar after couple of beers is a good enough reason to quit drinking.