Thursday, May 20, 2010

Do penguins eat kudzu?

So, on the last day of school, one of my students was telling me about a song called "There's No Penguins in Alaska." The song isn't actually about Alaska, but it does bring up a good point.

The point, of course, being that there are no penguins in Alaska. The Alaska zoo doesn't even have penguins, which is particularly interesting because the even the GEORGIA aquarium has about a dozen penguins, and I think it's pretty interesting that Georgia has more penguins than Alaska.

So why no penguins? I mean, I understand that penguins don't live in Alaska, but I just don't understand why they can't put a few in the zoo. It's a very nice zoo, with lots of cool animals and some polar bears that you can see fantastically close up. As far as I see it, there's only one reason no one would put penguins in the Alaska zoo:


That's right, I said kudzu. You might be asking "what on earth do penguins have in common with kudzu?" I will tell you.

(This section for non-southerners)
Kudzu is this crazy vine that covers everything in its path. It stops erosion, but can kill trees by blocking out sunlight and can cover entire homes if it isn't kept at bay. Someone once told me that it's high in vitamins and horses like to eat it. See below.

According to the great wikipedia, the history of kudzu in the United States goes like this:

"Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States in 1876. From 1935 to the early 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service encouraged farmers in the southeastern United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion . [and they did] It was subsequently discovered that the southeastern US has near-perfect conditions for kudzu to grow out of control. 

Kudzu is now common throughout most of the southeastern United States, Kudzu has naturalized into about 7,700–12,000 sq mi of land in the United States and costs around $500 million annually in lost cropland and control costs."

So why not bring some cute little penguins into the Alaska zoo? Fear of infestation. Cutest infestation ever (sorry Mitch, but penguins win over koalas), but devastating nonetheless. What if Alaska has the perfect climate for penguins and a couple of them get loose from the zoo one day? It could mean the end of life as we know it.

So that (in my admittedly ridiculous reasoning) is why there are no penguins in Alaska... even in the zoo.

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