Cookie the pygmy penguin is an adorable, tiny water bird. He shows us how much he loves having his belly scratched in this 2010 video from the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The video begins with Cookie waddling into a room and shaking his rump as he stretches his wings in the air. You can hear a woman talking about the bird, explaining that he has to wear a bandage because he has a disease called pododermatitis (Bumblefoot). The woman calls Cookie over, and the bird flaps its wings as it shuffles its tiny feet across the floor.
Then the penguin makes a chirping sound and keeps walking, wiggling its tiny butt the whole time. Cookie seems to be on a mission, and you’ll soon see what he’s up to. He approaches his owner’s outstretched hand to have his belly scratched.
As the man tickles the little bird’s belly, you hear the penguin laughing and see him leaning against the man’s hand.
You can also see him flapping his wings rapidly up and down and back and forth while having a good time. In the end, I think it’s safe to say that Cookie accomplished his mission! Cookie knew that if he went to the right person, he would get his belly stroked.
Since Patricia Sund uploaded this adorable video, it has gone viral on the internet, getting more than 15 million views and 60,000 likes. Even media outlets like The Guardian have reported on Cookie.
In the Guardian report from 2013, a pseudonymous science journalist calling herself “Grllscientist” commented on the origin of Cookie and his unique foot disease. According to the “Grllscientist,” Cookie belongs to the species of “pygmy penguins,” or Eudyptula minor in scientific terms . As the name suggests, pygmy penguins are the smallest species of penguin, growing up to 33 centimeters tall and 43 centimeters long. In other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, they are known as fairy penguins, little blue penguins and by the Maori name “kororā”.
Grllscientist points out that these small animals are native to the coast of New Zealand, the Chatham Islands, and coastal Australia. In other words, not all penguins come from Antarctica!
As we mentioned earlier, Cookie suffers from a condition known as pododermatitis or bumblefoot, of which there are two varieties.
“In the avian world, there are two diseases known as bumblefoot: In one, the young bird’s toes develop abnormally so that they point in strange directions, making walking, sitting and swimming difficult,” Grllscientist writes. “This condition can be completely corrected with the use of corrective banding that allows the toes to grow properly – if caught early enough.””The other condition that occurs in either young or adult birds is a bacterial infection and is more correctly called ulcerative pododermatitis in veterinary medicine,” she adds. “Here, the application of antibiotic ointments and dressings can resolve the condition – if caught early enough. Without treatment, the bird may lose its toes or even its entire foot.”
But don’t despair; Grllscientist goes on to say that Cookie seems to be on the mend and that his “condition will soon be fully resolved.”
Another heartwarming fact about Cookie is that he belongs to a species of penguin that is not endangered. According to Britannica, the pygmy penguin is listed as “one of the least threatened species” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Britannica adds, however, that some colonies have experienced population declines due to building and road construction, commercial fishing operations and newly introduced predators.
However, not all penguin species are so lucky. In 2010, the IUCN downgraded the spectacled penguin from the “endangered” category to “threatened,” National Geographic reports.
“The colonies on our coast have dwindled to dangerously small numbers,” said Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager for BirdLife South Africa, in an interview with National Geographic. “Now colonies are very vulnerable to small events, like bad weather, seal predation or gulls stealing eggs. In a large, healthy population, these events were insignificant. Now they have potentially serious consequences. We’re almost at the point of managing individual birds.”
Rob Crawford, a senior government scientist, went on to explain that while it is difficult to know exactly why the number of spectacled penguins has declined so much recently, the food chain likely plays a large role. The penguins, he added, are simply not finding enough anchovies and sardines anymore, which could be due to fishing.
Zoos and zoos like Cookie’s, however, are working to boost populations of Jackass penguins. For example, according to myNewOrleans.com, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas welcomed a baby Jackass penguin on Feb. 12, 2021 – the 56th chick to hatch at the aquarium.
We are excited to welcome this chick to our spectacled penguin colony,” said William Robles, curator of birds at Audubon Aquarium, according to myNewOrleans.com. “Each new chick hatched at the aquarium helps ensure this endangered species thrives and educates guests about the threats their counterparts face in the wild.”
Ocio, the father of the newborn penguin, and Hubig, his mother, had another baby named Zion in 2020. The process is quite rigorous, involving thorough health checks, feeding and behavioral monitoring via nest camera, and about 40 days of waiting for the egg to hatch. But the work is worth it, especially considering the current status of the spectacled penguins. According to myNewOrleans.com, there are only about 25,000 breeding pairs of spectacled penguins today, down from 141,000 in 1956.
Jackass penguins are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) initiative, which works with AZA facilities to conserve endangered species.
As for Cookie, there have been no updates on the penguin in recent years, and it appears that the Cincinnati Zoo does not list pygmy penguins on its website. Instead, the zoo boasts of spectacled penguins housed at Spaulding’s Children Zoo. Perhaps Cookie died or he was moved to another zoo. Regardless, millions of viewers around the world will remember him for his incredible penchant for belly rubs.