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As humans face new restrictions on their ability to move about amid coronavirus concerns, some animals who have only known confinement have been temporarily freed of their shackles. Specifically, I’m talking about a rookery of rockhopper penguins who recently took their first few steps as free birds to go on a “field trip” throughout an aquarium, wandering about as if they were human guests.
The penguins, who reside at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, were given this temporary glimpse of freedom on Sunday, mere days after the beloved establishment closed in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. “Without guests in the building, caretakers are getting creative in how they provide enrichment to animals,” Shedd told the Chicago Tribune. The main activity for penguins: gazing upon their aquatic brethren who don’t have the capacity to leave their glass tanks, an eerie encounter that was captured on video.
Watching this video is like witnessing a dog foolishly lick a quartered lemon, or a toddler attempt to walk on a patch of ice for the first time — the penguins exhibit a mixture of bewilderment, horror, and awe. My first reaction, upon watching it, was one of wonderment: My eyes welled up as one penguin, whom the aquarium identified as “Wellington,” gaped at the fish swimming around in an exhibit called “Amazon rising,” which was apparently his favorite part of the field trip. But then in crept a deep sadness, as I ruminated on how these sweet birds must’ve felt upon realizing that they’ve lived a life of bondage.
Sweet penguins, now is the time to unite! You have nothing to lose but your glass tanks. You have a world outside the aquarium to win.