Postcards from PEG
Published: 31st Mar 2014A gorilla is sending postcards back to Devon from the Antarctic. PEG – which stands for Polar Explorer Gorilla – is on board HMS Protector, the Royal Navy’s ice patrol vessel, on the adventure of a life-time. But why has a gorilla gone to the Antarctic?
PEG is probably the first gorilla ever to venture to the Antarctic - and it’s all to do with climate change. The adventure began when Simon Tonge, from the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, which runs Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, Living Coasts – Torquay’s coastal zoo – and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall, was invited to lunch on board Protector with other dignitaries. Simon: “During conversation Paignton Zoo’s successful Great Gorillas Project came up and Captain Hatcher suggested, “in jest”, that they could take a gorilla to the Antarctic and photograph it on an iceberg.
“Knowing that the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria - EAZA – had just launched a major new climate change campaign called Pole to Pole, I realised that this was perfect timing!”
EAZA represents and links 345 institutions and organisations in 41 countries. Leading zoos and aquariums in Europe and North America have united to launch a campaign to influence the energy consumption of their nearly 300 million visitors. The campaign, Pole to Pole, highlights the effectiveness of collective action in reducing energy use and protecting biodiversity in the Polar regions and beyond.
Clare Rugg, from Living Coasts, said: “Living Coasts is home to so many penguins – birds found at and around the South Pole – so both the Pole to Pole campaign and the wonderful offer by HMS Protector to take PEG with them are perfect for us.” The design of PEG includes a macaroni penguin, a species that can be seen at Living Coasts.
The leading zoos and aquariums of Europe, through EAZA, have teamed up with the Arctic Action Team and other partners to raise awareness and stimulate behaviour change to help conserve the biodiversity of the two Poles.
Clare again: “PEG is helping us to highlight climate change and show people how they can help. All you have to do is pledge to unplug one or more electronic devices when they are not in use. Pull out the plug once your mobile phone or tablet has finished charging, switch your TV or games console off at the wall rather than leaving it on standby. Together these small changes in behaviour can have a big impact in reducing the amount of electricity wasted and help cut the carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change.”
Crossing the line
My name is PEG, which stands for Polar Explorer Gorilla. I am from the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust in Devon, which runs Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, Living Coasts – Torquay’s coastal zoo – and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall. Towards the end of 2013 I packed my bags and joined the ship’s company of HMS Protector, the Royal Navy’s ice patrol vessel, for the adventure of a life-time on a voyage to Antarctica.
Since sailing from Portsmouth in October, I have made many new friends, all of whom have made me feel very welcome. I have had non-stop adventures and been to all sorts of wonderful places.
I have been involved in many of the activities on board; the first was a ‘crossing the line’ ceremony. This is something sailors take part in when they cross the equator for the first time and involved a meeting with King Neptune, who gave us permission to continue south into much colder climates.
We had one last opportunity to top up our tans on the way south and take in one of the world’s most iconic cities, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The sight of the world famous Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue as the ship made its way into harbour will stay with me forever.
In Grytviken, South Georgia I was privileged enough to visit the grave of the world famous Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and, along with my fellow mariners, I got to see the local penguins like the ones artist Jackie Kidd painted on me before I left home. The ones I met first were king penguins; quite timid, interesting and friendly birds which, along with gorillas and the crew of HMS Protector, are definitely one of my favourite animals.
As a group we regularly have to take trips away from the ship on one of its many boats to take part in survey work, diving operations, expeditions, delivering stores to the many bases in the area and environmental clean ups in remote areas that many other people would not be able to get to. I’m sure this will make my friends at the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, for whom I’m proud to carry the Pole to Pole logo, very happy, as climate change and preserving the planet are something they, along with HMS Protector, are passionate about.
As we travelled even further south into the Antarctic Circle I became actively involved in the ship’s hydrographic survey work in the vicinity of Detaille Island. This included installing a temporary tide pole that we as a team observed overnight whilst camping in tents. The temperature outside dropped as low as minus 38°C - pretty cold for a gorilla!
Things are going well for me as a member of the team on board HMS Protector. I have another trip into the Antarctic Circle coming up and a few rough transits across the notorious Drake Passage before returning to South America and continuing further north for a sunnier summer. There’s still a lot to look forward to and I will report our progress regularly!