Zoo fills penguin enclosure with plastic models following malaria outbreak

Telegraph Reporters
Emma Horton, 28, with a plastic penguin - SWNS.com

A penguin shortage at Britain's zoos as a result of a Malaria outbreak has seen them replaced with plastic models.  

Thousands had been spent on the attraction at Exotic Zoo, in Telford, Shropshire, for the new specialist enclosure which was due to open in time for the summer holidays.

A delivery of six Humboldt penguins, native to South America, were expected in July but the zoo was unable to get any due to an outbreak of avian malaria.

Instead Zoo director Scott Adams, 35, decided to fill the empty enclosure with models until they can get real penguins for visitors to enjoy.

Mr Adams said: "We've just timed it really badly.

"The enclosure is the zoo's most expensive to date and we had hoped to have it open for the start of the summer holidays. But then disaster struck.

A delivery of six Humboldt penguins, native to South America, were expected in July but the zoo was unable to get any due to an outbreak of avian malaria Credit: Adam Hughes/SWNS.com

"Because of the outbreak of penguin malaria we were unable to get hold of three pairs we had been planning to get in for visitors to enjoy.

"Instead we've had to use life-size models of various different species of penguins so we can at least educate visitors to an extent.

"We've got signs up explaining the situation. It’s been really disappointing but its been out of our control really.

"Unfortunately over the last couple of years there was a really bad case of penguin malaria that swept through the UK.

"Lots of zoos, if not most zoos, have lost a lot of penguins and in some case most of their stock.

"Most of the big zoos are getting their penguins back so any spares that would have come to us from the surplus lists or from stud books from other zoos are not available.

"Because we are a relatively small zoo we are not top of the list when it comes to replenishing those numbers.

Telford Exotic Zoo has been forced to fill its new penguin exhibit with models Credit: Adam Hughes/SWNS.com

"Penguins only mate once a year, so we've got to sit back and let nature take its course until the numbers build up in the UK and Europe."

He added: "We're not really anticipating getting any real penguins in until next year, which is a real shame considering the enclosure cost us tens of thousands of pounds.

Visitors to the zoo, which opened to the public last July and features over 100 species of animals, have spoken of their disappointment.

Julie Fearn, 44, of Shrewsbury, said: "It does look a bit weird and it’s a little bit disappointing because it would be lovely to see the penguins.

Avian malaria is endemic in wild domestic birds and is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito.

It can be fatal to species which have not evolved resistance to the disease, such as penguins.

Penguins have never had to build an immunity to it as they live on or near the sea where the insects that carry the disease do not occur.