Of all the animals that might look out of place in the cactus-ridden sauna of the Sonoran Desert, penguins arguably rank first. Fragile-looking, flightless waterbirds in the land of rattlesnakes, dust storms, and a heat wave that begins each spring and stretches to fall — it's just plain wrong. The first time we saw the collection of black-footed penguins at World Wildlife Zoo, it was in May — on Mother's Day, to be precise. A small waddle of the birds gathered in the only patch of shade in their rocky pen, which was about eight square feet and shrinking as the sun went higher. It was clear that the birds would soon have to make a choice between swimming in their cold pool, going inside to their air-conditioned apartment, or roasting in the sun like roadkill. Sad.
But let's face it, few zoo animals look entirely comfortable in their tiny, artificial cages. It's best not to dwell on the matter and just enjoy the experience of seeing such exotic animals. In fact, the exhibit is a relatively spacious housing and play area for the birds, which incidentally come from South Africa, not Antarctica. No bars surround the viewing area, allowing for an up-close and personal look at the these amazing, flipper-flapping critters. The World Wildlife Zoo has many awesome animals, but to desert dwellers like us, seeing live penguins is like a frosty treat.