Maryland Zoo in Baltimore zookeeper Crystal Duff, 31, is asked all the time whether penguins would make good pets. Her answer is "no."
"They look super cute and cuddly, but they're not the nicest birds," said Duff, who lives in Perry Hall and has worked at the zoo since 2009.
Duff has experienced a few penguin bites, but still really likes her job. At the newly unveiled Penguin Coast exhibit, she not only watches over the 54 endangered African penguins, she cleans up after them. "They poop a lot," she said.
In a recent interview, Duff talked about her job as a zookeeper and what she has learned from working with her penguin brood.
How did you get involved with the penguin habitat?
I knew I wanted to be a zookeeper, I guess, since I was a little kid. I started actually volunteering at the zoo … and then kind of moved my way up because I had an interest in birds. I actually didn't start out wanting to be a penguin keeper. I just kind of fell into it, but I actually really like it now.
What would you say you've learned from your experiences with them?
How interesting their social interactions are. I guess that's one of the things that I like best about working with them. ... They have a really interesting social dynamic and I guess since we have such a large colony you really see how certain birds might not like another bird or just the way they interact. Like you'll kind of see friendships between different birds, which is something that, even as somebody that loves animals, I didn't necessarily think that I was going to see working with them day to day.
Do penguins have personalities?
Some are more shy than others, some are a little more aggressive than others, some are more sweet. So yeah, they definitely have different personalities and that comes out every day. I wouldn't say my first day working with them that I necessarily noticed it, but you definitely start noticing pretty soon after working with them that they're all different.
Why do you think this exhibit is a good addition to the zoo?
Now people can really see the birds like they've never seen them before. ... Honestly, even I get chills looking at them like swimming right next to me. You can really see how graceful they are in the water. You couldn't see that before.
What is your favorite part of working there?
I really like that I get to work outdoors. I like that not every day is the same. We do have routines, obviously, for the animals. But, you know, one day I might go in and observe a surgery or help with grabbing up birds for vet exams and things like that. My day changes day to day and I really like that. It keeps me interested. I'm always learning something different about the birds.