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  • Writer's pictureBrent Meynen

ZOO Antwerp from your kot: a Q&A with Heidi the caretaker

ZOO Antwerp from your kot: a Q&A with Heidi the caretaker

The livestream from the Zoo proved the following:

- You’re always up for a break while studying;

- Penguins are cute;

- Penguins are cute (it’s worth repeating!);

- You had plenty of questions about these funny little creatures that we didn’t answer.

No worries! Heidi, their caretaker, took the time to answer some of the questions that we didn’t cover during the livestream.

Are the penguins sad because there aren’t any visitors at the moment? (Leen)

Heidi: "Penguins mainly focus on each other so the lack of visitors does not bother them. What’s more, they’re not really alone. We’re obviously there and so are some of our other colleagues who are working.

There are other animals who find it more difficult to cope. One of our chimpanzees lived with a family before coming to the zoo. She even drank tea and used the toilet like a human! We need to teach these animals to be ‘animals’ again. But they suffer from the lack of people. Apes tend to be more visitor-oriented compared with other animals. We also like to spend time people-watching on a terrace. Our apes miss the passers-by. The caretakers are doing everything they can to keep them entertained.”

Do penguins bite your hands? (Ilse)

Heidi: "Penguins may try to bite your fingers in an attempt to defend their territory. They have a pointed hook at the end of their top beak, which fits into a groove in their bottom beak. They use this hook to snag slippery fish, but also when an animal or a human ventures into their territory. If their beak snaps shut and your finger is stuck in between, it will definitely hurt! Moreover, you should always maintain a safe distance when they flap their wings. Their wings consist of solid bone and feathers, meaning they are bone-hard. You can end up with some ugly bruises if they strike you. The conclusion? Don’t stray into a penguin’s territory!”

Can penguins breathe under water? (Bram)

Heidi: "Penguins cannot breathe under water. Sometimes you see them leap in and out of the water, like dolphins. They do this to save energy. They can remain under water for several minutes but it requires a lot of energy. So they regularly come to the surface to breathe when hunting.”

How do penguins sleep? (Jelle)

Heidi: "It depends on the type of penguin. The African penguins in the livestream sleep in a nest, on their tummy. Emperor penguins tuck their beak under their wing when they sleep.”

Don’t the penguins find it too hot at the moment? (Elize and Thibau)

Heidi: "These black-footed penguins are African penguins, which are used to warmer climes. But you can’t move an emperor penguin to Africa, for example, because it would die. Emperor penguins need the cold to thrive. That is why they live in the penguin enclosure in our park, where the air is filtered. We do this because they are very susceptible to mould fungi.”

Do penguins have knees? (Ilias)

Heidi: "They most definitely do! But they are hidden in their body. All you can see is their ankle joint. Their knees are higher up."


This article was written for, an online platform that was created in times of corona at the request of the University of Antwerp.

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