A zoo has been forced to fill a brand new enclosure with MODEL penguins – because a shortage of the birds means they cannot get the real thing.
Visitors to Exotic Zoo, in Telford, Shrops., have been left disappointed after finding the latest exhibit filled with plastic figurines of the flightless birds.
The attraction had spent tens of thousands of pounds on the new specialist enclosure which was due to open in time for the summer holidays.
A delivery of six Humboldt penguins,which are native to South America, was expected this July but the zoo was unable to get any due to an outbreak of avian malaria.
Zoo director Scott Adams instead decided to fill the empty enclosure with models until they can get real penguins for visitors to enjoy.
TV animal man Scott, 35, – who is a regular face on Blue Peter and The Alan Titchmarsh Show – said: “We’ve just timed it really badly.
“The enclosure is the zoo’s most expensive to date and we had hoped to have it open for the start of the summer holidays. But then disaster struck.
“Because of the outbreak of penguin malaria we were unable to get hold of three pairs we had been planning to get in for visitors to enjoy.
“Instead we’ve had to use life-size models of various different species of penguins so we can at least educate visitors to an extent.
“We’ve got signs up explaining the situation. Its been really disappointing but its been out of our control really.
“Unfortunately over the last couple of years there was a really bad case of penguin malaria that swept through the UK.
“Lots of zoos, if not most zoos, have lost a lot of penguins and in some case most of their stock.
“Most of the big zoos are getting their penguins back so any spares that would have come to us from the surplus lists or from stud books from other zoos are not available.
“Because we are a relatively small zoo we are not top of the list when it comes to replenishing those numbers.
“Penguins only mate once a year, so we’ve got to sit back and let nature take its course until the numbers build up in the UK and Europe.”
Scott is even planning to dress a member of his staff in a penguin costume over the Christmas period as he doesn’t believe the problem will be rectified until the new year.
He added: “We’re not really anticipating getting any real penguins in until next year, which is a real shame considering the enclosure cost us tens of thousands of pounds.
“We’ve already got contingency plans in place for the Christmas period when we will dress up a member of staff in a penguin costume so at least the children will have something to enjoy.
“We had a private company come in and created for us a really impressive enclosure, complete with cliffs, rockwork and water features. It took a couple of months.
“But its so specialised that it can’t be adapted for other animals so we’ve had to use the fake birds we bought from a model shop in Devon.
“If we had been looking for penguins a few years ago we would probably have already had them by now, its just one of those unfortunate things.”
Visitors to the zoo, which opened to the public last July and features over 100 species of animals, spoke of their disappointment today (Tue).
Julie Fearn, 44, of Shrewsbury, said: “It does look a bit weird and its a little bit disappointing because it would be lovely to see the penguins.
“You don’t expect to pay admission to a zoo and see models of animals instead of the real thing.
“But I suppose its out of their control really and at least the models teach kids about the different types of penguins. Its not their fault there’s been an outbreak.”
Dad-of-one Paul Lawley, 29, of Telford, added: “Its a shame they’ve spent all this money and got nothing to show for it. Its really sad news about the penguins dying too.
“But I would have just left it empty if I was them. It looks like the Madame Tussauds version of a zoo.”
Avian malaria is endemic in wild domestic birds and is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito.
It can be fatal to species which have not evolved resistance to the disease, such as penguins.
Penguins have never had to build an immunity to it as they live on or near the sea where the insects that carry the disease do not occur.