Head Keeper teaches King Penguin Chick to swim

Our Head Keeper has been going to extreme lengths to help our king penguin chick overcome its fear of water.

Head keeper Alistair Keen donned snorkel and mask and took the plunge in the penguin’s outdoor pool in a bid to encourage the chick, who has been named Charlotte in honour of the royal baby, to start swimming.

The chick which hatched last year has been hand-reared by Alistair and sees him as its surrogate parent.

“Initially Charlotte was absolutely terrified at the prospect of getting her feathers wet,” said Alistair.

“I know penguins can’t fly but she was making a pretty good attempt in her bid to avoid taking the plunge.

“In the wild the chicks only learn to swim by following their parents in to the water so I, as her adopted dad, felt obliged to get in and try and show her how it was done.

“At first it didn’t seem like she was ever going to get the hang of it but now, although I certainly wouldn’t say that she’s taken to it like a duck to water, she is gradually getting more and more comfortable in the pool,” he added.

We took the decision to artificially incubate the egg after several previous eggs had been broken by other penguins.

“King penguins only tend to lay eggs once a year at most and we didn’t want to risk losing any more before they’d had a chance to hatch,” said Alistair.

“For the first few weeks it was literally a round-the-clock job to look after Charlotte. However she has now got her adult feathers and, with her swimming lessons now going well, she’s pretty much ready to fend for herself,” he added.

Birdland is the only place in England to breed king penguins and Charlotte is the first female chick to be born in nine years. However it has been seven years since the last chick, her elder brother ‘Spike’, was successfully reared here.

There are 17 species of penguin in the world and the king penguin is the second largest, weighing up to 18kg. The largest is the emperor penguin, which can weigh 45kg and the smallest is the appropriately-named little penguin which weighs two kilogrammes.

Penguin on rock

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