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Aquarium of Niagara seeks funds to "Save The Penguins"

The Aquarium of Niagara is asking the public to help them complete a capital campaign in order to proceed with a planned new penguin exhibit that, officials say, is needed to preserve its population.

Currently, the Aquarium hosts seven penguins, half of which are at least 20 years old. That's older than the median life expectancy, officials say, and the penguins are no longer able to produce healthy offspring.

Gary Siddall, who in May was named the Aquarium's new executive director, says the organization is moving forward with a plan to build a new 3,500-square-foot exhibit that includes 10,000 gallons of water and a rocky landscape simulating the Chilean coastline where Humboldt Penguins live. 

"It'll also have a large programming space in our exhibit gallery, which will allow our visitors to participate in new programming offered by our education and animal care departments," Siddall said.

The cost of the project is estimated at $3.2 million. Aquarium leaders say they've raised about $2.3 million so far.

The new facility is required, he explained during a Wednesday news conference, to gain accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that will allow the Aquarium of Niagara to obtain new penguins for an expanded population. 

"That is the highest-ranking accreditation in the zoological industry," Siddall said. "Upon the completion of this project, we will attain accreditation and, thereby, be able to participate in breeding programs and partner with other institutions to deliver a collaborative breeding program."

Elected  officials invited to speak included Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, Assemblyman John Ceretto and State Senator Robert Ortt. All spoke of childhood or family memories from the Aquarium. The Assemblyman, recalling his daughter coming home from the facility with a stuffed penguin she would embrace at home, says local tourism must include family-friendly attractions if it is to successfully grow.

"We're building hotels right now in Niagara Falls and the one thing I feel we're truly missing is we don't have enough family entertainment here to secure and make these hotels viable and keep them here," Ceretto said. "We have to move forward with entertainment for families."

Dyster added that Niagara Falls seeks to "not only entertain its visitors but also educate them."

A GoFundMe account has been established to collect community pledges. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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