Penguin Awarness Day

antarctica_penguins in penguin encounter smHappy Penguin Awareness Day!

Penguins are arguably some of the cutest creatures on the planet. Some love them for their way-cute waddle. Others admire the way they cut through the water with ease. The more formal types might like that they’re dressed in black in white every day! I can’t decide which of their adorable characteristics I love more! I just know  that they are some of my personal favorites, so much so that for my birthday this past year, all I wanted was a chance to get up close and personal again with one at SeaWorld.

I’ve been missing my little friends for months while the Penguin Encounter has been taken down, and the new Antarctica… Empire of the Penguin is under construction. The first-of-its-kind family ride will transport guests into an Antarctica penguin’s world.

Quick fact break: Not all penguins live in cold temperatures.

Goofy me with a grin that says I LOVE PENGUINS!

Goofy me with a grin that says I LOVE PENGUINS!

Our family has spent literally hours in Penguin Encounter, and we were fortunate enough to have been picked a number of times for a behind-the-scenes “meet and greet” with the stars. In the Encounter format there were “Penguin Talks” at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. If you were in there and paid close attention to the educational presentation, you were given the opportunity to “win” a trip backstage. My son (soon to be 6) has never been more proud of Mama than when I poked my hand up the fastest and then (whew!) answered the question of the day(s) correctly. I’m not kidding when I say that I felt like I was on a game show. There was a LOT of pressure from my short fellow SeaWorld fan to meet those penguins!

Julie Scardina and Brian Morrow

Julie Scardina, Animal Ambassador and Brian Morrow, Corporate Director of Creative Development

Now we’re ramping up for the all-new experience. It started when I went to the media preview in November, 2011. Julie Scardina, animal ambassador, was there to greet us and Brian Morrow shared all the exciting news… How it’s going to be the “coolest” (literally!) theme park attraction in the world… and how guests will experience a state-of-the-art interactive ride that makes the adventure different each time.

We’re getting a taste of the fun with the new SeaWorld app: SeaWorld’s Antarctica (available in iTunes, with Android platform coming soon). On it you’ll find penguin facts, a fun photo game (check out my little guy as an explorer here), and info about the seven-city Epic Voyage campaign being launched in New York City. Street teams will ensure people can “follow the freeze” as teams visit malls and consumer travel shows. I’m trying to figure out what city I can visit to participate in the ice dome, photo ops, Antarctica games and (my favorite) live penguins. They’ll also have a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine serving Coke products which, as you know, is our family favorite.

Quick fact break: ALL penguins live naturally in the Southern hemisphere).

If you’re as penguin-obsessed as our family, you’re no doubt donning some sort of penguin Antarctica_Daniel at Penguin Encounteritem in honor of penguin awareness. I have on my penguin necklace, a gift from my son (maybe for getting those questions right!). I’m saving our matching penguin T-shirts for the grand opening of Antarctica… Empire of the Penguin. I may, however, have to sport ALL my penguin garb if I’m luck enough to #jointhevoyage with the Epic Voyage tour.

SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund — Ewaso Lion Project

Julie Scardina, Animal Ambassador for SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove, has been to every continent visiting the various projects supported through the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. She took time out of her busy schedule for an interview. This is the first in a series of articles on projects funded by the SWBGCF.

Ewaso Lion Cubs

Close your eyes and think of Africa. Think of the animals roaming… the orange hues of the setting sun… magnificent beasts waiting to pounce. No doubt in your mind you imagined a lion stalking his prey, crouching, waiting. Maybe you pictured one sleeping lazily with cubs nearby, adorable, and yet formidable. The lion, proud, powerful, elegant… the very symbol of a continent. And yet, according to The Ewaso Lions project, they may be extinct in Kenya in 20 years. Today, a mere 2,000 lions live in Kenya with only  40,000 in all of Africa.

“The African lion population has declined by 30-50% in the past 20 years
and lions have disappeared from at least 83% of their historical range in Africa.”¹

There are many reasons the lion population is decreasing: loss of habitat, conflict issues, and even trophy hunting take their toll, as does population growth and, with it, increased numbers of cattle.

To accurately assess how serious the problem is, and to help stop the lion population decline, the Ewaso Lions Project² was founded in 2007 by Shivani Bhalla, a Kenyan national who worked previously with the Save the Elephants foundation in Samburu.

Ewaso Lions project

Julie Scardina and Shivani Bhalla venture to the Samburu Reserve

Tag and measure lion Ewaso Lion projectJulie Scardina has visited Shivani Bhalla and her team, at the Ewaso Lion project. They are “collaring and measuring the lions,” says Scardina, “and finding out the areas where they roam and where they live to find out what they need, specifically, in order to increase their population.” Identifying human/animal clashes is another important mission of the project.

Shivani Bhalla takes local children, many of whom who have NEVER seen a lion, on photo safaris as part of the Ewaso Lion education program. Photo courtesy Ewaso Lions

Education is key in avoiding and reducing conflict, Scardina emphasizes. The project “helps create more awareness about the benefits of having predators in the landscape… that having wildlife, in general, helps an environment and an ecosystem to thrive.” This idea is contrary to what many believe. Some see the wild animals as competing with their livestock and a threat to their way of life. “In reality the ecosystem is healthier” when each level of the food chain is present.

Without predators, there is no culling of the weak, injured, sick and old members of the prey population. Adds Julie, “If it’s not the strongest breeding, you’re breeding a weaker species which isn’t going to be able to compete with other—even grazers—in the future.”

Photo courtesy Ewaso Lions

To help educate the community, Bhalla employs mostly local scouts including Samburu warriors from the area. These tribesmen have learned how to use GPS and other tracking devices, as well as using “camera traps” and keeping notes on animal activity.

People in this region are responding to the message of conservation. Young men who previously killed wildlife are now passionate supporters since learning the integral connection between them and their native land.

Warrior Watch, Ewaso Lion Project

Samburu Warriors did not, at first, understand how conservation would benefit them. Now they protect wildlife in the bush. Photo courtesy Ewaso Lions

The message to the locals is, “they need not fear or dislike lions,” says Scardina, “they have true value… and are part of their heritage and their history, and ultimately their future. Lions represent the strength, and the bravery, and the courage of their warriors. They learn that they can protect their prized possessions [cattle] and keep their loved ones safe. It is, in a way, harder in the short run  to live with predators in your area, but they realize in the long run… if they didn’t help and participate… that it would be a very different future for their community and for their children.”

Click here to see a video highlighting the Ewaso Lion Project.

The next time you are at one of the SeaWorld Parks, consider donating to the SeaWorld Busch Bardens Conservation Fund, or click on the link on this page. All money, one hundred percent, goes to partners in the field.

¹Ewaso Lion Project, website.

² For the past few years, funded in part by a grant made possible through contributions to the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.