Penguins in the desert

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It is probably no surprise to anyone that popular culture is not always the best source of information about Nature. Take for example, some children's cartoons or even a major cola company's holiday commercial portrayal of penguins several years ago. These " Hollywood" penguins always seem to be from cold regions (hence the scarf), and they invariably run into would-be predators, namely polar bears.

The only problems are: most penguins come from temperate climates, and no species of penguin originates north of the equator--they are all found in the Southern hemisphere, whereas polar bears are from the Northern hemisphere! But why let a little thing like geography affect our popular (mis-) understanding of these flightless birds?

Fortunately, one place you will see penguins in the northern hemisphere is at Wildlife World Zoo. For several years, we've displayed black-footed also known as jackass penguins. These animals are found in the southern coastal regions of Africa. Their colorful nickname comes from the unusual donkey braying-like call they make.

Similar to all but about 2 species from the Antarctic, this variety lives in temperate climates. This is why for most of the year here in Phoenix, a few black-footed penguins have been comfortably on display in an outdoor display at Wildlife World Zoo. During the peak summer months, they can still be viewed from their air-conditioned indoor exhibit complete with a pool.

All that is about to change with the opening of the Wildlife World Aquarium later this year! We plan to display more penguins than ever before, in a huge new year round pool exhibit located in one of three new aquarium buildings. We're just waiting for Valley daytime temperatures to drop a bit before welcoming our new flightless birds to their new home. Our continuing commitment to showcasing penguins comes from the need to promote greater awareness about the population status of all penguins and the very real threats to their survival. Several varieties are on the brink of extinction due to pollution, habitat loss and over fishing.

By the way, one other factoid you might never learn from pop culture. Penguins have a rather sharp point at the end of their beaks that presumably helps them snatch and hang onto fish. It also enables them to clamp onto the fleshy part of your forearm for a seemingly indefinite amount of time. Not that I am speaking from experience, of course.

Grey Stafford, Ph.D. is the Director of Conservation and Communications at the Wildlife World Zoo and author of the new pet-training book, " ". He appears frequently on 3TV with some of the zoo's fascinating animals.

Wildlife World Zoo, which is located at 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, is open 365 days a year, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Daytime admission is $16.99 (plus tax) for adults and $8.99 (plus tax) for children 3 to 12; children 2 and younger get in free. For more information, call 623-935-WILD (9453) or visit .