City prepares for big crowds, long lines for new Penguin Chill exhibit

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Excitement is building for the opening of the Albuquerque zoo’s long promised “Penguin Chill” exhibit.

The BioPark will open the new exhibit to the public on Tuesday morning during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. A 75,000-gallon tank will house 31 Macaroni, Gentoo and King penguins. However, there’s also a chance that you may not be able to see the city’s new flightless birds depending on how large the crowds get.

While the zoo is expecting thousands of visitors to trek through the Penguin Chill each day, there’s also a cap on how many people can safely and comfortably squeeze through the exhibit during its initial operating hours between around 9:15 a.m. and about 4:15 p.m.

To prepare, zoo and New Mexico BioPark Society staff are working on crowd control measures. “We’re going to try to get in as many people as we can,” said Julie Miller Rugg, executive director of the BioPark Society.

Miller Rugg says staff is expecting more than 4,000 visitors through the Penguin Chill exhibit every day. They’re concerned about how many people may come to see the exhibit over its opening weekend. “The reality is, we think we can get about 600 people an hour, and that only equates to about 4200 people per day,” said Miller Rugg.

Busy weekends can draw seven to eight thousand people into the zoo. Depending on how weekend traffic, the BioPark Society says it’s likely that not everyone who attends the zoo on some days will have a chance to see the penguins. “We don’t want people to have to come and be in line for hours,” said Miller Rugg.

The zoo won’t stay open late for more people to see the penguins, as the birds need ample amounts of rest to stick to their Antarctic body-clock. “It’s all about molting and breeding, so we have to keep them on their time,” said Miller Rugg.

The BioPark Society says if necessary, the zoo is prepared to launch a free “timed ticketing” program, to where families can block out a chunk of time to see the exhibit. “If we’re doing timed ticketing, it will make it so much easier on you, that way if your time is at 3:00 p.m., you don’t have to come at 9 a.m. and wait until three to get in,” said Miller Rugg.

The city isn’t expected to launch timed ticketing at the opening of the exhibit. Miller Rugg says depending on the crowds, the practice could be implemented in a few days after the opening.

While they’re encouraging New Mexicans to check out the penguins, Miller Rugg says she wants people to be cognizant of the potential for large crowds. “If you’re not one that enjoys crowds, I would wait a couple of weeks to get through first before you come by, but also check online to see what we’re doing,” said Miller Rugg.

The exhibit includes an antarctic-themed main viewing deck, an interactive educational area and more. In pre-opening test runs, the BioPark Society says people have been spending between 10 and 20 minutes inside the exhibit.

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