MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Zoo was struck by tragedy this Wednesday, as one of its last remaining male African penguins was fatally shot by a zookeeper.
The incident occurred in the afternoon, at peak visiting hours during a special penguin showing. The half-hour show is put on every day, and involves the small flightless birds swimming in circles and jumping out of the water. They are rewarded with small fish, their main food source both in the wild and at the Minnesota Zoo. Zookeepers report that the penguins are usually peaceful creatures, and penguin trainer is one of the most sought-after positions at the zoo.
The show went awry, however, when one of the larger male penguins broke formation and waddled towards the 3-inch-thick glass surrounding the exhibit. There, behind the glass, stood John Magnotto, age 2, with his mother. At this point a zookeeper named Bob Linko interpreted the penguin’s waddle as extremely aggressive, and, fearing for the safety of the toddler, took action by shooting the endangered animal 11 times with his company-issued sidearm. He later said, “good thing I had the gun on me from my shift at the lion exhibit. I know penguins are attracted to shiny objects and the mother’s purse was covered in sequins, but you just can’t be too careful with these animals.”
Numerous animal rights groups condemned the act, imploring the zoo’s use of lethal force without attempting to sedate or calm the animal. A zookeeper that was not at the scene later explained to reporters that zoo employees are trained to act in this manner if they are concerned about the safety of a visitor. He was quoted saying, “you just don’t know how they will react to sedation. That penguin could have gone crazy and really injured someone!”
Later the same day, the zoo issued a statement, explaining that the incident was regretful. It then went on to say that “it was simply part of the circle of life. Animals are born, they grow up, get captured and imprisoned by humans, looked at, and eventually shot. That’s just how nature works. We don’t make the rules, we just enjoy them.”