The Kansas City Zoo took a walk on the wild side earlier this month to the nearby Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with a trio of Humboldt penguins in tow. These adorable flightless birds—Bubbles (5), Maggie (7), and Berkley (8)—took the Impressionist and Baroque collections by storm. “We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives,” explains Randy Wisthoff, the zoo’s Executive Director, “and stimulate their days and during this shutdown period, our animals really miss visitors coming up to see them.”
The two institutions coordinated this cultural playdate and were sure to capture the penguins’ visit on film. According to the museum’s Director, Julian Zugazagoitia, the birds “seemed, definitely to react much better to Caravaggio than to Monet” despite his anticipation that they would prefer Monet’s cool-toned water lilies. Perhaps the rich earthy colors from the Baroque paintings piqued the penguins' interest for their unusual depth and shadow.
It seems that the black-and-white birds still know a bit of home when they hear it, for the trio of Peruvian penguins seemed to “really appreciate it” when Zugazagoitia spoke to them in Spanish. Though this special outing isn’t normally in the zoo’s itinerary, they’ve had to be experimental during quarantine to keep their animals engaged without the excitement of visitors to keep them occupied.
“Humboldt penguins in human care can live well into their thirties. In the wild, Humboldt penguins are facing habitat loss and suffering from overfishing which depletes their food sources. Unfortunately, our penguins can’t speak for themselves, but we think they found the experience at the museum very enriching!” Wisthoff says.
You can now visit Bubbles, Maggie, and Berkley at the Kansas City Zoo since it has opened its doors with new regulations. While the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is currently still closed, you can make a donation to help support the curators’ efforts.