St. Louis Zoo penguins exhibit closes to public

and | Senior News Editors

Matt Mitgang | Student Life

A king penguin is seen in its exhibit at the St. Louis zoo in August 2010. The penguin exhibit is currently closed to the public to allow for renovations to the polar bear exhibit. It is scheduled to reopen spring 2015.

The parade of the St. Louis penguins is taking an 18-month hiatus.

From earlier this month through spring 2015, the Saint Louis Zoo is closing its Penguin & Puffin Coast exhibit to complete an $18 million renovation of its polar bear exhibit that has been without a polar bear since 2009.

Most of the penguins will not be moving and will still be available for visitors to view, but they will have to pay $50 for the behind-the-scenes tour.

“The exit to the exhibit is being blocked off to keep dust from the construction project from affecting the animals. And with only one way in and out of the exhibit, large crowds of spectators would pose a safety concern,” Susan Gallagher, the zoo’s public relations director, said.

“I think people of course miss the penguins, but they’re very excited about the polar bears coming,” Gallagher said. “They’re the iconic species for issues related to climate change…it’s an important species to have here at the zoo.”

Closing the exhibit to the public means the Penguin Parade, a popular bucket list item for many students, will be put on hold as well. The parade, traditionally held on Sunday afternoons between November and February, took penguins out of their exhibit to waddle through the zoo and play in the snow.

“Penguins are my absolute favorite part of the zoo, as they are for a lot of college kids here, I’m sure, and I’m so upset that they’re going to be gone for the rest of the time I’m here,” junior Aleks Husic said. “I’m excited about having polar bears, but I’m really going to miss seeing the penguins because I think $50 is way too much to pay.”

Many other students said they are willing to forgo free penguin visitation rights if it means getting polar bears in the future.

“I think it’s fine as long as the penguins are going to eventually come back. I’m going to be here in 2015, so at least I’ll get the chance to see them,” freshman Nisha Dhanik said. “I’m sure a lot of people will be upset but I think in the long run, it’s a really cool thing that we’ll get polar bears.”

“I love polar bears, so when this exhibit opens, I will be going to the zoo for the sole purpose of seeing the polar bears,” junior Sophia Brown said. “It’s a weird trade-off, to hold off the penguins, but I really like the idea of having the bears. I do wonder if they’ll get anyone to pay to see the penguins during the construction, though, because $50 is steep.”

While the zoo is making a large investment in its new McDonnell Polar Bear Point, actually securing polar bears can be a complicated process because they are an endangered species, Gallagher said. Endangered and threatened species are monitored under Species Survival Plans, and experts make decisions about what facilities should be given to animals, considering factors such as reproduction opportunities.

“We’re excited it’s going to get built, and we’re hopeful we’ll actually get polar bears someday,” Gallagher said.