A hand-reared penguin that was terrified of water has learned how to swim with the help of her keeper.
The aquaphobic bird, named Charlotte, refused to get into the penguin pool with the rest of her colony and made desperate attempts to avoid the water. But after having one-on-one swimming lessons to conquer her fear, Charlotte now loves her time in the pool.
Head keeper, Alastair Keen, donned a wetsuit and goggles to tempt the water-shy bird into the penguin pool at Birdland Park and Gardens in Gloucestershire.
And after a few days training, Charlotte is now diving happily into the pool and darting through the water with her dive companion.
The first King penguin to be born in England in 7 years, Charlotte’s egg was artificially incubated after several previous eggs had been broken by other penguins.
She was then hand-reared by Alastair with round-the-clock care and grew up believing the 35-year-old keeper was her mother and father.
But after being introduced to the other penguins at the park, it became clear Charlotte was reluctant to join them in the pool.
‘Charlotte hadn’t had contact with water for 9 months as chick feathers aren’t waterproof,’ says Alastair. ‘She’d never experienced it, it was a complete shock to her.’
In the wild, penguins naturally follow their parents into the water, but being hand-reared Charlotte didn’t have the benefit of a large family group to help her.
Simon Blackwell, manager at Birdland, said: ‘We realised Charlotte was scared of water when we released her to be with the other penguins. When she came to the edge of the pool to put her feet in the water she ran away. We pushed her into the pool and she panicked so much we realised we needed to approach it in a different way.
‘Because she followed Alastair in the enclosure quite regularly it was obvious that he was going to have to don a wetsuit and get into the smelly, fishy water.’
Committed keeper Alastair rose to the challenge. ‘The first day she just sat and watched me in the pool so we decided to lift her in,’ he says. ‘Once she got her head underwater and realised she could hold her breath, she could see underwater, something just twigged and she was brilliant.’
Alastair shared pictures of their exploits on his Facebook page and the cute penguin has become a poster girl for the park.
Charlotte is now as happy in the penguin pool as she is on dry land – but has one trick left to learn.
‘She’s become a brilliant swimmer now,’ says Alastair. ‘You see her exhibiting natural behaviours like cleaning herself on the water. Now she just needs to learn to feed in the water – we’re yet to see her catch a fish.’