Visitors to Idlewells shopping centre will meet some unusual and controversial guests this Friday - a waddle of 14 Very Important Penguins.
The shopping centre says the display will be a real treat for young visitors to see and learn about the aquatic birds, describing them as ‘happy, loved and cared for animals’.
But the decision to stage a show with real penguins has been criticised as cruel by animal welfare organisation Peta.
Billed as The Very Important Penguins (VIPs), the birds will be housed in a large empty store, The VIP Lounge, in Idlewells on 25th November between 4pm and 8pm.
An area of artificial grass will be fenced off, complete with a paddling pool, for the Humboldt penguins to enjoy, and a feeding demonstration will take place on the night.
Idlewells manager Chloe O’Donnell said: “The team at Idlewells Shopping Centre has always been proud of its role in the community of Sutton and knows that this event will both educate and delight many of its huge base of loyal customers.
“Before booking the penguins, we made a surprise visit to the home of these penguins, and spoke directly with the experts who run a highly successful breeding programme there. We are 100 per cent whole-heartedly confident that these animals are happy, loved and extremely social creatures that are totally un-phased by a busy environment such as ours.”
Ms O’Donnell said she and marketing manager Sarah Monsoon were both animal lovers who had researched the company who keeps the animals.
She said: “Sarah and I love animals and wanted to be sure that, if we brought penguins to Sutton, they were happy, loved and cared for animals that would not be stressed in coming into a busy shopping centre.”
Ms O Donnell added: “We were introduced to a lovely lady called Barbara - she looked after the penguins and often took them out on educational visits, such as ours.
“She was an extremely knowledgeable lady who clearly loved the penguins - all 14 of them - and knew every one by name.
“Barbara spent around 30 minutes with us in the penguin’s enclosure, as they swam, chattered and preened each other in blissful contentment.
“She said that they will be exactly the same as this in the centre, they were extremely sociable - and ‘nosey’ - animals, living the life of luxury to help spread the word for their cousins in the wild.”
She said during the visits, keepers teach children and adults about the animals, with interesting facts and anecdotes, but more importantly they teach the importance of caring about the environment that helps them to thrive in the wild.
Ms O’Donnell added: “They explain about their own breeding programme which is continually adding to the population of the threatened Humboldt species, and how everyone can help to temper their declining numbers due to habitat destruction.”
Wildlife organisation Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are objecting to the event.
Speaking on BBC Radio Nottingham, Peta campaign officer Kirsty Anderson said: “Penguins like these have been born into captivity - they’ve never had the chance to live a natural life . They are wild animals marked as vulnerable on the endangered species list. We should be doing things to protect them not capturing them breeding them into captivity and forcing them to display in a big shopping centre so that we can gawp at them and make money from them.
“The only thing that we teach children by taking them to events like these is that it is OK to take animals from the wild or to breed them into captivity so that we can entertain ourselves.
“There are so many ways of giving our children magical experiences without exploiting these animals .
“Animals shouldn’t be bred for entertainment they should be sent to a sanctuary to live out their lives in a natura environment where they are not forced to display and to do tricks.”