I can scratch Penguins off the list of animals I have been lucky enough to pat in my lifetime.
Last year it was otters; this year it was Gentoo penguins, the angry football sized members of the pathetically adorable flightless water bird family. I'm thinking of making this a tradition. Hopefully for my next birthday I can pat some sort of capybara, or manatee, or sloth! I'm just worried this list may also cross over into my "Eat the Flesh of All Creatures From Around the World" list. I think penguin would taste like blubbery chicken. Mmmmmm Mhm Mhm!
But as for the living ones, I went to Sea World on the Gold Coast for the day and it would have been an absolute disappointment if I hadn't got to spend a good hour in the penguin enclosure giving high-fives to literally dozens of these guys. When you're a kid there's this magic to going to a new place to see new animals for the first time and it's amazing to witness all these creatures you've only dreamed of from picture books sitting on rocks right in front of you. But when you're older it all just seems a bit sad. Especially in the hot Australian summer sun.
So that's why, twice now, I've forked out the big bucks to get up close and a little too personal with small furry creatures. And it is 100% worth it. No watching the backs of animals sleeping at the back of their enclosures. Uh uh. I'm gettin' right up in their shit.
You see that thing above? The black and white mass of non-threatening salty love? I had that sitting on my lap as it hissed at me. And it was absolutely terrifying until the keepers told me it was apparently how they showed affection. Then it was slightly less terrifying. It's kind of like if someone came up to you at a bar, bowed slowly, and then whistled really low while craning their spine back 180 degrees. A tad creepy until someone tells you they just want a belly rub.
And patting these things isn't like patting a cat or dog. There's a familiarity when patting another mammal because you can feel the same basic muscle and skeletal system under the fur and skin. That springy push back you get as you massage the tendons in one stroke and they enjoy the pressure on the same areas you would.
Ooohoho not with Gentoo penguins. These little buggers are like dense footballs covered in a slip'n'slide. You try to pat them and either your hand just slips off or you just end up nudging them sideways because there's no spring back. It's not like I'm expecting them to be squishy but you kind of want them to be squishy.
High expectations aside, this was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Going into the enclosure you get swarmed by these little friendly beings as they start going for the chew toys we were given. And not penguin specific chew toys, just plain ol' doggy chew toys. One of which was a plastic tetrahedron which Reuben (a penguin) liked to flick back and forward as if he were reenacting the time his friend George (also a penguin) was eaten by a leopard seal. I don't know if that actually happened but I'm sure Reuben would be great at telling stories purely based on his enthusiasm for wrestling with shapes.
I had a female penguin called Aurora sit on my lap while she hissed and cuddled up to me. It would have been super adorable if penguins weren't also known for spraying salt water at you whenever they flipped their heads around. Which is all the time. So thankfully we were given goggles to go with our ski gear. Ski gear, which unfortunately was not loose enough for me to smuggle Aurora home with me. She would have lived in my fridge and been adored like the queen she was.
I love penguins.