A Facebook petition organized by a “Miss Penguin” was in the news this week, having gathered several thousand signatures and endorsements from more than 100 groups against Greater Taichung’s plans to build a penguin habitat.
Miss Penguin and other netizens say that even as the city boasts of its efforts to cut carbon emissions, it is moving ahead with plans to build a facility that will require a great deal of energy to be cold enough for penguins and perhaps even require the destruction of a 40-year-old windbreak forest, neither of which is environmentally friendly. Environmentalists also question the impact the work, noise and sewage will have on the Gaomei Wetlands (高美溼地).
Critics also question the cost in these economically challenging times, saying the municipality plans to spend NT$300 million (US$10 million) building the facility and NT$6 million purchasing penguins.
Taichung Deputy Mayor Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家淇) defended the plan on Thursday, saying it would promote tourism and help educate elementary and junior-high school students in central Taiwan. He promised to speak with environmentalists opposed to the plan, but said the project would go ahead.
Penguins and Greater Taichung do not seem to be a natural mix, even though the city does have a large and busy port and fishing harbor. However, penguins appear to be a bee in the bonnet of city planners and Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), who have been promising to build a facility for the birds since 2009.
In February 2009, Hu promised to have a penguin center completed by the end of that year or the following Lunar New Year holiday at the latest. He made the promise at a groundbreaking ceremony for a multimillion-dollar Fisherman’s Wharf being built next to the city’s fish market, which was going to be turned into a new home for penguins.
Sounding a familiar note, city officials said they hoped the penguin hall and the Fisherman’s Wharf complex would become major tourist attractions. However, in the end, the new wharf complex ended up with a fish market, seaport market, a “fresh fish zone” and something called “Alaska Sea World.” So a little more than three years later, the city is still talking about penguins. However, the public needs to ask why penguins — and why not something else?
In 2009, Hu said the city had decided to go with penguins, instead of the marine life education hall it had originally planned, because Pingtung County already had a marine life institution — the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium. However, along those lines, Taipei Zoo has a Penguin House, home to king penguins and African, or black-footed, penguins, so why should Taichung build a similar facility?
Greater Taichung already has the Taichung Folklore Park, the Natural Science Museum — including the Earthquake Museum in Wufong — the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and the Taichung Winery as tourist attractions. If it wants to attract more tourists and educate young people in central Taiwan, wouldn’t it be better to focus on species that are native to Taiwan? There are a lot of unique species here: the Formosan serow, the Formosan macaque, three types of shrews, four kinds of rodents, eight types of bats, 17 species of birds and scores of subspecies, lizards and snakes (more than 20), plus a variety of frogs, toads, salamanders and newts, as well as several types of freshwater fish, including the Formosan landlocked salmon.