Penguin bites, Total Wipeout and David Attenborough: The Life of a Penguin Keeper

“I’ve got three penguins that think I’m dad”

Alistair Keen has been the Head Zookeeper of Birdland Park & Gardens for the last 13 years. Over zoom, Mr Keen details the ups, the downs and unexpected challenges of looking after the last King Penguins in the UK.

Alistair’s day starts at 7:30am when he and the three other keepers carry out their usual duties. This varies from cleaning out the penguin pool to spending hours chopping up fruit. 

His main duties are caring for the largest birds on site. These are the penguins, pelicans and flamingos. The 10 King penguins held at Birdland are the only remaining in the UK. Alistair is proud of the fact that he is “the only person in the country saying I do my job”.

The King penguins are the second largest species of penguin and therefore draw considerable attention to themselves and to the park. Seth and Spike are celebrities in their own right. Spike is the star of the show and is notorious for seeking attention and loving cameras. He has his own social media accounts with his Facebook profile accumulating over fourteen thousand followers. Seth is their oldest penguin at the age of 35 and is the last surviving Penguin from the film Batman Returns.

The fame and popularity of Alistair’s penguins have given him incredible opportunities throughout the 19 years of working at the Zoo. He spoke about the game shows that he is regularly invited onto as a result of being a penguin keeper. He has appeared on Pointless, Tipping Point and Weakest Link. Thanks to Alistair’s wife, in 2011 he was flown out to Argentina to appear on Winter Wipeout.

Alistair has also met David Attenborough from working with the penguins. He “got to work with the great man and chat to him for a while”.

Along with these great experiences, Alistair has also dealt with the not so great experiences. Ollie, the park’s “nastiest penguin”, has fractured Alistair’s wrist. He has also had to have stitches from being bitten by Ollie. Alistair also now has asthma after swimming in the penguin pool when teaching a penguin to swim.

Despite having to clean up faeces, being bitten and developing asthma, Alistair loves his job and “wouldn’t want to do anything else at all

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