CHONBURI, Thailand (Reuters) – The flip flop sound of penguin feet rang out at an empty zoo in Thailand on Thursday as a parade of birds waddled out of their enclosure for their daily splash in a pool to keep them healthy during a COVID-19 lockdown.
Thailand is fighting its biggest coronavirus outbreak yet and has introduced strict movement curbs that have seen many public places, including zoos, shuttered.
“I noticed that they felt a bit confused because when they walk out, there’s usually a lot of people waiting for them,” said Tossapol Kosol, a penguin specialist at the Khao Kheow Open Zoo just outside Bangkok, the Southeast Asian country’s capital.
“Now when they come out and there’s no one here, they sometimes stop to look around, as if they’re wondering where all the people have gone,” he said.
Over the last year, Tossapol and his colleagues at the zoo have had to find ways to exercise the animals despite the lack of visitors.
After feeding the 41 penguins 25 kilogrammes (55 pounds) of mackerel, Tossapol and his colleagues march the penguins in unison down a long gangway that leads from their air-conditioned enclosure to an outdoor pool for exercise.
Zoo director Tawin Rattanawongsawat said that although he was unable to accept visitors – most of whom would have helped feed the penguins during normal times – life at the zoo had to find a way to carry on, for the welfare of its animals.
“There’s no visitors these days, so they’re being fed by their carers instead,” he said. “They must be wondering why it’s always the same faces, where are the children and their parents?”
“They must be a bit lonely.”
(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Writing by James Pearson; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)