As well as contributing to research into reasons for the decline of Little Penguin numbers in the wild, having penguins on-site will play a major role in the University’s teaching programs in animal behaviour.
Biologist Professor Sonia Kleindorfer said it is expected that 10 penguins will live in a specially designed enclosure in the Animal Compound, adjacent to the new building.
Pairs of Little Penguins from the Granite Island Penguin Conservation group and the Adelaide Zoo will be lent to Flinders, and it is hoped that the School of Biological Sciences will eventually be able to breed up its own colony.
A number of the Flinders penguin colony will join lizards and songbirds in the Centre’s three-storey ecosystem or “eco-dome”, which will be connected to the first-floor animal behaviour laboratory.
The animal burrows in the ecosystem will be wired for sound and visuals and the live feeds transmitted to the laboratory, while built-in scales will allow animals to be weighed without being handled.
“Students will be able to learn how to do statistical analysis and data presentation non-invasively, and while they’re doing it they get to watch the animals, which will complement their field trips,” Professor Kleindorfer said.
“We’ll be combining teaching principles about animal welfare, best practice and non-invasive observation.”
Teaching in the new building will begin at the start of Semester 2 in July, while the dome is due to be ready for its animal occupants in October.
Other parts of the Centre will be dedicated to teaching in molecular biology and microbiology. Professor Kleindorfer said the top floor of the Centre, which will offer training for postgraduate research students, will house other experimental animals, such as insect colonies.
The design and landscaping of the larger penguin pond in the Animal Compound will have input from Flinders biology student Simon Brown, who also happens to be an architect and the designer of Melbourne Zoo’s award-winning penguin enclosure.
The refurbishment of the Animal Compound will include a new walkway that will allow school groups to tour the facility, which also houses aviaries, aquaculture fish tanks, a native plant garden, and a glass house dedicated to sustainable food production and plant pathology research.
Professor Kleindorfer said most of the species that will occupy the ecosystem are endangered.
“A big part of the reason for having the penguins here is to enhance our collective awareness of the plight of creatures we generally don’t see.”