All 41 of the Humboldt penguins at the Woodland Park Zoo look up to their primary keeper, Celine Pardo.

Not just because they’re about 18 inches tall and she’s an even 60 inches. It’s because Pardo feeds them, cares for them and knows each one’s name and personality. Some are shy or standoffish, others gregarious. But to them, she’s the alpha penguin. She knows their temperament, how they walk, their differences in eye color.

Humboldts are native to Peru and Chile, along the Pacific Coast of South America and the Puñihuil Islands. But all of the zoo’s residents are from other zoos or aquariums.

When Pardo comes out with a couple of buckets of fish for the morning feed, most line up waiting for capelin, herring and ocean smelt. “They know to be patient.” Usually in the summer they’re fed live trout released into the water. Penguins can swim 25 mph, so the trout are gone in about five minutes. The penguins respond to her hand signals and when she calls their name.

“They’re really smart,” and “for the most part, they get along.”

Celine Pardo knows the names, temperaments and personalities of each of the 41 Humboldt penguins she is the primary keeper for at the Woodland Park Zoo. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Celine Pardo knows the names, temperaments and personalities of each of the 41 Humboldt penguins she is the primary keeper for at the Woodland Park Zoo. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

Thirteen-year-old Dora is a dominant one. “She breaks up fights,” usually over territory, “and is a busybody.” Pardo pays her off in ocean smelt.

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For enrichment, they have toys to play with, but not when the public is present. The zoo doesn’t want objects or coins being tossed into the habitat.

The Humboldt penguins are native to Peru and Chile in coastal desert areas. Pardo says, “They’re really adaptable.”

The species is listed as vulnerable with their numbers in decline, an estimated 12,000 breeding pairs existing worldwide.

“People think they’re cute,” says Pardo. “But, they’re not pets.”

In hot pursuit, a Humboldt penguin is about to snag a rubber duck toy used for enrichment.  The curious penguins get durable toys when the public isn’t present because the zoo doesn’t  don’t want any objects thrown into the habitat.  The zoo is currently closed to the public because of the coronavirus. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
In hot pursuit, a Humboldt penguin is about to snag a rubber duck toy used for enrichment. The curious penguins get durable toys when the public isn’t present because the zoo doesn’t don’t want any objects thrown into the habitat. The zoo is currently closed to the public because of the coronavirus. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
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