Outpouring of support for zoo after tragic deaths of dozens of penguins from malaria

Zookeepers are counting their losses after the tragic deaths of around 50 of their 69 penguins due to an avian malaria outbreak.

Around 70 per cent of the zoo's penguins have tragically died
Around 70 per cent of the zoo's penguins have tragically died

Dozens of Humboldt penguins at Dudley Zoo have died having contracted the disease, leading to an outpouring of sympathy and sadness from zoo fans.

Similar to human malaria, avian malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes.

It cannot be passed on to humans or other animal species, but penguins are particularly susceptible to it as they do not have natural immunity to the disease.

This is a completely separate disease to avian flu, which has ravaged the UK's birds over the last few months and led to the quarantining of birds across the country.

Derek Grove, zoo director, said: “We are all heartbroken with the huge loss in Penguin Bay and it’s been an especially distressing time for our bird team who have devoted years to their care.”

The zoo said it has had a successful breeding programme for Humboldt penguins over the past 30 years.

Starting out with five hand-reared chicks in 1991, it had gone onto to grow one of the largest self-sustained colonies in the country, it said.

Mr Grove said penguins do not have natural resistance to the disease and it is not easily identifiable on tests, making the situation harder to control.

“Thankfully, occurrences like this are rare and in over three decades we’ve never experienced anything like it before,” he added.

“We do not know if last year’s unusual weather pattern has played a part, with wet and muggy weather not only impacting the penguin’s moulting season, but also increasing the risk of mosquitos – but what we do know is we now need to focus on continuing to treat the remaining birds and putting in place additional preventative measures to avoid this tragedy happening again.”

Will Dorrell, a partner at Hoo Zoo Animal Kingdom in Telford, said: "It's always something of concern, along with other potential diseases such as avian flu.

"All we can do is follow strict biosecurity protocols and at certain times of years keep our birds penned inside.

"We're all thinking of Dudley Zoo at what must be a horrendous time. We have many friends over there and have worked together on many occasions."

And Anna Nicholas, the charity manager at Cuan Wildlife Rescue in Much Wenlock, said: "Our deepest sympathies to Dudley Zoo, it must be heartbreaking for them.

"Any zoonoses (infectious diseases which can be transmitted from animals to humans) and other diseases are regularly monitored for in any bird which is admitted at Cuan. We are currently under strict guidelines due to the avian flu.

"We have PPE in place and precautions for any bird which is in need of rescue and will continue to do so. Unfortunately more and more diseases are becoming more prevalent which is worrying for the future."

Around 70 per cent of the zoo's penguins have tragically died

Messages of sympathy have been pouring in for the much-loved penguins on social media, with many visitors of the zoo "heartbroken" over the news.

Paula Bell said: "So sad. I could cry. Absolutely loved seeing them when we visited. They are like little humans following the zookeeper around. RIP poor babies."

Stephen Harper said: "Sorry to hear the sad news! The penguins that have died are no longer in pain, which is for the best. My thoughts are with the staff who are bound to feel the loss most keenly. Whenever I see the penguins I'm impressed at their obvious condition, due to the staff's care. Delighted by their antics, who can not love them? For their keepers, the loss must be devastating. I send big hugs to them."

Bonnie Shore said: "Such sad news at the loss of so many penguins. The hard work and dedication of the bird team has not been in vain. You have worked around the clock trying to save the lives of these poor dear creatures. My heart goes out to you all."

Siobhan Michaels said: "Devastated to read this. We had the most amazing time meeting and feeding the penguins a few months ago for the second time. Such awful news, I can’t imagine how the keepers are feeling, sending love to them all."

Caroline Phipps said: "That's so sad, but thanks to all at DZG for their compassion and love for these precious animals. Hopefully you'll be able to rebuild the colony."

Karen Milliner said: "Heartbreaking news indeed. Very sad for those who have cared for these birds over the years to experience this awful situation. Isn't it highly unusual for a mosquito in the UK to be transmitting this? I hope this is an isolated incident and that there is a reduced chance of a similar problem happening in other colonies in UK zoos?"

Hania Knox said: "So very sad to see your devastating news. I hope you can manage to beat this awful outbreak. I had a fantastic time with your penguins and keepers on my experience day and know how much these beautiful creatures mean to you all."

Annette Chambers said: "Sorry to hear this guys, Thoughts go out to you all, so devastating to lose the little guys when your their second family, fly high penguins."

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News