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North Hills Monthly

A Labor of Love Helps a Very Important Penguin Return Home

Jun 30, 2020 09:20PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine
National Aviary


The return of an endangered penguin to her home at the National Aviary following a long illness was a success story months in the making.

A small penguin made a big splash when she returned home to Penguin Point at the National Aviary in June. With a waddle, hop, and a splash, Dottie, an endangered African Penguin, and her mate Stanley, returned after a months-long absence to a chorus of calls and brays from the members of their colony in Penguin Point. National Aviary staff stood by to take in this special moment, which back in October when Dottie fell ill, had seemed so far off.

In October, the National Aviary’s team noticed a change in Dottie’s behavior. The normally friendly and sweet African Penguin was suddenly weak, unable to stand and experiencing labored breathing. She was immediately admitted to the National Aviary’s intensive care unit, where she received oxygen and emergency treatments. Specialized tests revealed the source of Dottie’s symptoms: pneumonia, and a mass in her chest.

In the face of this stunning diagnosis, a team of experts in veterinary care, penguin behavior, and husbandry was formed to collaborate on her care. Human-grade antibiotics and nebulizers, respiratory medicines, oxygen treatments, and intensive nursing brought Dottie through the worst of her illness. She received nebulizer treatments every four hours, twice-daily medications, and daily fluids. Dottie regained her strength, overcame setbacks, and made strides towards a recovery.

Penguins are colony birds, used to living in close proximity. The National Aviary’s team knew that beyond needing intensive physical care, Dottie needed companionship to make a full recovery.

Cue the arrival of Stanley (named for the Stanley Cup), Dottie’s life-long companion and one of the National Aviary’s four original African Penguins.

“At first, Stan came for one-hour visits in the ICU each day, which was all Dottie could manage in her weakened state. As Dottie regained her strength, the visits became longer and longer, and eventually Stan moved in to the ICU,” said Dr. Pilar Fish, the National Aviary’s Director of Zoological Advancement and Veterinary Medicine. “Stan worked in tandem with the team who visited throughout the day to encourage Dottie to eat. While our penguin experts would feed Dottie, Stan would sit right next to her, vocalizing and grooming her. When Stan ate, Dottie would take a bite.”

Stan’s full-time presence with Dottie in the ICU, coupled with the intensive care she received from National Aviary staff, helped Dottie recover and heal. When she and Stan took the leap to rejoin their colony at Penguin Point, they immediately made their way back to their usual spot, reclaiming their cave carved into the rocks. Dottie and Stanley fell right back into stride with their old routines, clearly enjoying being back home among their colony after a long journey to recovery.

“Dottie’s recovery is a miracle that largely happened behind the scenes, and this happy moment, watching her dive into the water at Penguin Point, is the result of prioritizing both her physical health and emotional wellbeing,” said Dr. Fish. “From our incredible veterinary team, to our penguin experts bringing Stanley to be at Dottie’s side, to the members of our extended Aviary family who donated to help ensure Dottie received the highest possible level of care, Dottie’s recovery was possible through many acts of caring and generosity at each stage.”

Visitors can see Dottie, Stanley, and the rest of the penguin colony when the National Aviary reopens to the public on July 1. Visit to learn more about the National Aviary’s safe reopening plan.