From Penguins to Tigers: Storytelling at the Zoo in 2016


2016 has gotten off to a very organised start for this RZSS Storytelling Resident.  I’ve finally edited and posted the story I crafted for the Penguin Festival (Animal Stories tab) and I’ve posted my upcoming performances (Events 2016 tab).

Being part of the Penguin Festival was a thrill, as a few penguin friends stopped by the window of the Penguin Hut to listen in on the stories.  I brought my good friend Allison Galbraith along to share in the telling and we had some wild fun chasing imaginary penguins and gingerbread men around the interpretation board.

Each time I’m asked to do an event, I learn something new about the world of animal stories.  This time, I struck out completely on my quest to find a traditional tale about penguins.  Up until more recent times, human contact with these antarctic birds has been minimal.  In the distant past, people would have encountered them in remote areas along the coasts of South Africa, South America, Southern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.  There are a few ancient artefacts depicting penguins and penguins make a few supporting-role appearances in Australian Aborigine Dreamtime Tales.  However, I couldn’t find anything substantial enough to tell for the Penguin Festival.

Contrast this historical lack of penguin tales to the masses of contemporary penguin stories.  I don’t think there’s a children’s library anywhere on the planet with fewer than three penguin picture books.  I myself, loved Mr Popper’s Penguins growing up.

There are also a number of true life penguin stories out there to draw on.  Which is what I did, crafting a story based on the real life use of guard dogs in penguin conservation in Australia.  I’m not the first to have done this, the Australians have made a movie about this same colony of penguins.  In fact, I’ve named the dog in my story in honour of the dog actor in that movie.

It’s an excellent story for conservation education as it provides openings to talk about the problems of introduced species (in this case foxes), connects with animals children may be more familiar with (the family pet dog) and contains role models of people passionate about protecting animals.  Of course it also provides opportunities to talk about the geography, biology and vulnerabilities of penguins.

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I'm a writer, a researcher and a storyteller.

One thought on “From Penguins to Tigers: Storytelling at the Zoo in 2016

  1. I never thought about the lack of penguin traditional stories, or that rationale; makes sense. This seems like a fun job!

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