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Penguin visit aims to teach children about conservation

June 23, 2018 GMT

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON - On Friday morning, children participating in the weeklong Amazing Animals camp at Marshall University had the unique opportunity to get close to, and even touch, a bird that’s far from being native to West Virginia.

The WAVE Foundation, an educational outreach arm of the Newport Aquarium in Cincinnati, brought a 10-year-old female African penguin named Green Bean to Huntington to greet the students taking part in West Virginia Science Adventures’ summer activities.

Earlier in the week, the animal-themed camp had welcomed creatures such as dogs, cats and snakes to the halls of Marshall’s Science Building. Suzanne Strait, executive director of West Virginia Science Adventures and a biology educator, said this year, she also wanted to incorporate some more unusual animals that kids don’t always get to see, such as hedgehogs, sugar gliders, tarantulas and the guest-starring penguin.

She said exposing children to the variety of animals, birds and bugs can sometimes alleviate fears about the creatures and helps drive home the idea of conservation.

“Seeing an animal in person is so much more of a lasting impression for a child,” Strait said.

While the group waited for Green Bean to arrive, they also discussed the different species of penguins in the world and heard from Jeff White, a Marshall student who is working toward his master’s degree in biology who has studied - and even visited New Zealand to find and research - Fiordland crested penguins.

African penguins are critically endangered in the wild, which makes them a good ambassador species to take on visits to schools, libraries, senior centers and other gathering places, said Sarah Wainscott, a conservation educator who, along with intern Rylee Stephenson, accompanied Green Bean on Friday. Their population has dwindled from 5 million to about 50,000 over the past 100 years, making them a prime example when it comes to teaching people about the need to protect wildlife, she said.

Plus, “It’s a lot of fun for them,” Wainscott said.

Newport Aquarium has eight African penguins, and seven make visits on behalf of the WAVE Foundation. Green Bean was raised by biologists, which means she can live into her 40s, as opposed to African penguins in the wild, which typically only live to be about 15, Wainscott said. It also meant she was comfortable in the classroom, investigating peoples’ shoes, spots on the wall, and hopping up and down the lecture hall stairs.

As the summer continues, a penguin won’t be the only winged creature to visit campus. Strait said the camp that begins July 9, Be A Science Superhero!, will feature birds of prey from Three Rivers Avian Center, the raptor rehabilitation facility. For more information, visit http://ssawv.com/.