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Busy Penguin Attracts Players and Families

October 7, 2017 09:33 AM


Story & photos by Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

Little Rock Zoo Educator Laura Fawks with Kai.

“Everybody expects to see her on ice. This type of penguin is comfortable in our climate.”

That’s what Little Rock Zoo Educator Laura Fawks said shortly after placing Kai, a two-and-a-half-year-old African black-footed penguin, into her small playpen near the tournament desk at Burns Park Tennis Center.

This visitor sparked almost as much attention as Roger Federer or Serena Williams might have. Kai soon drew a crowd of about 30 players and youngsters who looked like they were ready for 10 and Under play … or younger.

“Can I touch her?” one toddler asked. Fawks said the penguin was only used to her and fellow Zoo Educator Steven Lemp. “But you can get close,” she added.

Kai arrived later than her announced time of 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, delayed by an earlier appearance in Fort Smith. Nevertheless, crowds immediately formed around her one-foot body.

  • Let’s go over some facts, penguin style, supplied by Fawks and Lemp, along with other sources:
  • Most penguin species are from Africa, not Antarctica.
  • African black-footed penguins are indigenous to South Africa and surrounding countries.
  • The African black-footed penguin has been declared an endangered within the last seven years.
  • There were 2 million living 200 years ago and now there are only 55,000 in existence.
  • There are 17 penguin species but only a couple live in cold weather.
  • Penguins like Kia grow up around rocky areas and are great climbers.
  • The penguin’s pool water at the Little Rock Zoo is kept at 60 degrees.
  • The hotter the penguin gets, the more blood is sent to glands around her eyes, making the glands more pink and then red.
  • She can jump around a foot off the ground.
  • Kai is full grown now and will live about 20 years.

And, no, Kai didn't just fly on her own to the tennis center (haha). While the African black-footed penguin is a seabird, it’s flightless and can't get off the ground.

Little Rock Zoo Director Susan Altrui is a captain of her 6.0 Arkansas and is playing at the tournament. USTA Arkansas Executive Director Deanna Garretson knew Altrui and made the connection to bring Kai out to the park.

"We thought it would be a fun event for our players, especially those with young children,” Garretson said. “Kai was definitely a hit!”




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