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Pampered Penguins: John Ball Zoo's penguins get annual checkups

The zoo's 26 penguins were checked from beak to flipper Wednesday.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Penguins, penguins, penguins! The John Ball Zoo may be closed for the winter season, but that doesn't mean the work stops. 

On Wednesday, Feb. 26 a team of zoo professionals gave all the penguins their annual physical exams -- and it was pretty cute!

Each year, during the zoo's off season, the main penguin tank is drained of about 36,000 gallons of water and then zookeepers, like Kritsi Koole, wrangle the penguins from around the empty tank for their checkups. The tank has to be drained, but according to the zookeepers -- it's not easy trying to nab a penguin who is darting through water.

A total of 26 Magellanic penguins were examined on Wednesday. The exam includes a check of their eyes and beaks, blood work and a once over with a metal wand to detect whether they've ingested any small items like coins or rings that may have accidentally fallen into the water. The penguins also get a "mani-pedi" where their nails and beaks get trimmed with a small drill.

Zookeepers say it's important that the exams happen every year, because the penguins can't tell the keepers if they're sick or hurting.

The annual exam is a team effort with veterinarians, vet techs, keepers, interns and even students from local colleges there to help John Ball Zoo or learn about the process. One person looks at a penguin's beak, while a second is looking at their eyes and taking their weight. The process looks very similar to an assembly line so that keepers don't miss any red flags. 

The zoo often uses the annual exam as a day to education other employees who wouldn't otherwise come in contact with the penguins. 

Once the penguins were finished with the exams, they were placed in travel carriers and taken to another tank on the property. The zoo said it will be working on the penguin tank and doing some modifications, so the penguins will spend the next week or so in a different location. 

If you would like to see the penguins up close and personal (and trust us, you do), you can sign up for a behind-the-scenes look at the penguin tank and join in on a feeding session when the zoo reopens in April 2020.

For more information about the penguins and John Ball Zoo, visit jbzoo.org.

Looking for a laugh? Here are some "penguin puns" that might make your day:

  • What does a broke penguin say when he sees the vet for annual exam? Put it on my bill.
  • How do penguins know when there’s something wrong? It smells a bit fishy.
  • Why don’t penguins fly? Because they’re not tall enough to be pilots.
  • What do you call a penguin in the desert? Lost.
  • Why do penguins carry fish in their beaks? Because their suits don’t have pockets.



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