The San Diego Zoo has received a $5 million gift from California philanthropists Dan and Vi McKinney which will help make a new home for critically endangered African penguins at the San Diego Zoo a reality.

The new penguin beach enclosure will open in 2017. It recreates a portion of the South African coastline with a sandy beach sitting amongst towering boulders. A 60,000 gallon (272,765L) pool will allow guest an underwater view of these penguins as they frolic in the water. 30 burrows will be located in the penguin care centre providing a home for the penguins where they can bring up their chicks. I will be able to house up to 50 African penguins.

Penguin Beach will form part of African Rocks a new habitat which will allow visitors to experience a number of African habitats such as Madagascar and the Ethiopian Highlands. It will feature animals such as lemurs, zebras, baboons and of course penguins.

African penguin

“The McKinneys are longtime supporters of the Zoo—we are thrilled and grateful for their generosity now and over the years,” said Douglas G. Myers, CEO and President of San Diego Zoo Global. “They are committed to providing an excellent home for the African penguins as well as an amazing opportunity for guests to experience the world of these extraordinary black-and-white birds. In addition, their gift is helping the Zoo embark on a conservation breeding program for this endangered species.”

Another 1,550 people also contributed funds to help build the exhibit.

To honour the McKinneys gift a pair of penguins which moved to the San Diego Zoo from Tautphus Park Zoo in Idaho a few months ago have been named Dan and McKinney. Currently the pair is living behind the scenes while they train to be ambassadors for their species. Keepers are hoping that they will soon be making educational appearances.

African penguins need all the help they can get. In the 1900s 1 million penguins could be found along Africa’s coast but now this has dropped to 40,000. Over just 10 years their numbers plummeted by 70%. The zoo is hoping to play a large role in the breeding program in the new enclosure.

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo

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