Baltimore Insider

Maryland Zoo penguins ‘intern’ at Penguin Random House book distribution center in Westminster

The pitter patter of penguin feet can be heard as the African penguin from the Maryland Zoo shuffles across a desk. Later, the “penguin intern” noses through copies of books, among them “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” and Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere.”

The visit this summer of two penguins to a Carroll County distribution center belonging to the publisher Penguin Random House was captured in a really, really ridiculously cute video that now has more than 500,000 views on Twitter.


Jane Ballentine, senior director of development and communications for the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, said the video came about after representatives with Penguin Random House approached her with the idea of a collaboration.

“We talked to them a lot about penguin conservation,” Ballentine said.



An earlier version of this story misquoted Jane Ballentine. She talked to the Penguin Random House representatives about penguin conservation; she had not taught them about conservation.

Random House made a donation to the Zoo’s conservation efforts. After a few conversations, she and zookeepers brought African penguins Lilly and Tetra to the publisher’s facility in Westminster.

Lilly and Tetra are part of the zoo’s Animal Embassy program, which brings educators and animals to classrooms and community facilities. The eight “ambassador” penguins have been pre-selected by Zoo staff because they tolerate humans well, Ballentine said, and live separately from the 100 or so African penguins on display at the zoo.

“They’re the ones that people can get close to,” she said. “The others that are in the colony … they will take your eyeball out if they have the chance.”

In addition to the penguins, Ballentine said, the Embassy program also includes about 60 other animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, turtles, snakes, a Harris hawk and two ravens that appear at every home Ravens game.

But people tend to gravitate toward the penguins, said Ballentine.

“They’re so freakin’ adorable,” she said. “They definitely have personalities.”