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The Detroit Zoo- Home to the Largest Penguin Facility in the World!

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

We love those penguins!

Several penguins standing about at the Detroit Zoo penguin exhibit.
Various Penguins (media by JC)

Polk Penguin Conservatory (media by JC)

Opened in 2016 at the cost of 32 million dollars, the Polk Penguin Conservation Center is the largest facility of its kind. The 33,000 square-foot facility, located on two acres of property, houses a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area. The incredible marvel is home to 75 King, Rockhopper, Macaroni, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins.

When the facility opened in 2016, it carried with it a nasty secret:

“Unfortunately, the contractor failed to properly waterproof the foundation, was aware that groundwater was seeping into the building throughout construction, didn’t fix the problem, and failed to inform us,” Ron Kagan, then-Detroit Zoological Society executive director, and CEO, said in 2019.

In 2019 the facility was closed for much-needed leak repairs and was to reopen nine months later. As is usually the case, the ninth-month estimate turned into years. The facility, with much fanfare, was re-opened on February 14, 2022. Here is the kicker; it still leaks!

Polk Penguin Conservatory (media by JC)

Zoo Director Hayley Murphy mentioned in a statement.

“We have found and corrected as many leaks as possible,” Murphy said. “The leaks that are still occurring are not affecting animal health or welfare, or the guest experiences enjoyed within the building.”

The decision to open was largely predicated on an already extended timeline, and additional monies needed for the repairs. The repairs were deemed sufficient enough and it was time to put the penguins back on display. In either case, the vast downtime also provided a reason to improve and enhance the facility.

Upgrades include a section of glass flooring that allows guests to see birds swimming below their feet. The rock surfaces throughout the facility were recoated to bring more vibrancy and realism to the display. As it is important in the wild it was imperative to create more nesting areas for the penguins. With that came the addition of a second snow machine to provide them more taste of home. Adding to that were the needed upgrades to the water and air filtration systems, enhanced lighting, and exhibits that focus on changing climate and the resulting loss of sea ice.

I for one am excited to check out the latest updates to this facility. This is most likely the closest I will see them in their natural habitat. I just hope they are happy with their new home and they can return to their normal lives, living in a zoo!

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