Love lives of penguins at Lincoln Park Zoo captivate readers


Erin Brown

A penguin takes an early morning swim at the Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove in Lincoln Park Zoo. 2001 N. Clark St. Thursday, Sept. 7.

By Miranda Manier

Pilchard was devastated when Robben broke up with him and he would haunt their former home only to be shooed away by Robben’s new partner Preston. After wallowing in his loneliness, Pilchard found a friend in Phil, and their “bromance” quickly blossomed. 

This is “All My Penguins,” the drama that rocks Lincoln Park Zoo’s African penguin colony, which is featured on the zoo’s blog. The zoo began the parody of the soap opera “All My Children” in July, chronicling the lives and relationships of the 12 penguins the zoo acquired in 2016. 

After the Kovler Penguin Seabird House had been closed for about five years, Sunny Nelson, the zoo’s Hope B. McCormick curator of birds started sending regular updates, so people who were curious or excited about the new bird colony could be in the loop. The stories, Nelson said, lent themselves to drama, so the zoo’s communications department came up with a way to showcase that. 

“It’s kind of a behind-the-scenes look at the great animal care [the zoo provides, while also] making it accessible and easy to understand for everybody,” Nelson said. 

She added that she finds herself getting invested in the penguins’ relationships despite her role in the series. 

“I was just reporting some of this information and from a scientific perspective; we’re looking at the best care that we can provide for [the penguins], then I go behind the scenes and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s typical Phil!’ Or, ‘Oh, that’s so funny that Robben’s doing that today,’” Nelson said.

“All My Penguins” is updated about once a week to highlight the drama within the Lincoln Park Zoo colony while also throwing in some scientific facts for good measure. For instance, the fourth chapter explained why penguins preen—to waterproof themselves by spreading oil from the glands at the base of their tails and neck—while also updating readers on Pilchard’s adventures as a bachelor and female penguin Madiba’s love triangle with suitors Dudley and Mandela. 

Emily Altimari, the zoo’s public relations coordinator, said “All My Penguins” performs a unique function, encouraging people to rally around a specific species.

“It’s like education meets entertainment,” Altimari said. “It’s a more digestible way for people to connect with the species.”

Carly Keenan, a marketing consultant who lives in River North, discovered “All My Penguins” when she was scrolling through Twitter one day. 

“I just thought it was so cute and hilarious, and I’ve been following it since,” Keenan said. “It was just funny to really pay attention that closely and start to understand what their dynamic is with each other.” 

A few weeks after attending a “Malott Family Penguin Encounter,” which allowed guests to enter the penguin exhibit, Keenan realized she had witnessed events discussed in the blog. After reading the blog, Keenan was able to attribute traits she encountered during the visit, like birds stealing fish from their peers or only eating certain kinds of fish, to specific penguins mentioned in the blog. 

The first “season” of “All My Penguins” will conclude in October. Whether there will be a second remains undecided, but Altimari indicated that there would be occasional follow-ups after the first season’s end—not only to update readers on Pilchard’s relationship status, but to keep them engrossed in the wellbeing of the African penguins.