While Super Bowl Sunday fills the apartments and dorm rooms of countless Binghamton University students with chicken wings and nacho platters, the day’s real festivities could be found early Sunday morning at the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park, as four African penguins went flipper to flipper in the zoo’s annual Penguin Bowl.
The Penguin Bowl, now in its third year, serves as a fundraiser for the zoo’s conservation efforts. The game was livestreamed on both Facebook and Instagram, featuring commentary by zoo employees about the diet and lifestyle of the African penguins featured. The event drew between 250 and 300 continuous viewers between both platforms, a new record for the game.
According to Rachel Peppard, public relations coordinator for the zoo, the event aims to highlight the zoo’s role in the African Penguin Species Survival Plan, a global effort to protect the genetic diversity of the endangered species.
“We just want to be able to highlight their species because they are endangered, so it’s very important that we do our part in helping the species in the future,” Peppard said.
Inspired by events such as the Puppy Bowl and Kitten Bowl that also air on the day of the Super Bowl, the game provides an opportunity to raise money during the zoo’s offseason, all of which goes toward the care and enrichment of the animals.
“We thought that by being able to be a part of the big game’s weekend, it would just help out our efforts in conservation,” Peppard said.
The fundraisers have been successful, with Penguin Bowl III raising $421 through Facebook donations. Peppard stressed how important donation drives like these can be for the zoo, which is a nonprofit and relies on fundraising to make ends meet.
“Any money that we can raise really goes toward a good cause,” Peppard said. “We really rely on our community to back us and be able to support us and our efforts.”
While the actual Super Bowl is a fierce fight between two storied franchises attempting to bring the ultimate trophy back to their devoted fans, the Penguin Bowl is light on the rivalry side. The game is not scored and no penguins understand the logistics of a touchdown, let alone attempt to complete one. While one might be swept away imagining a flightless bird finally soaring through the air to catch a pass between its flippers, Peppard made it clear that the event is less about football and more about giving the penguins a unique experience.
“It’s not super competitive,” Peppard said. “The gist of it all is just to allow the penguins to spend time in a new area and to play with their enrichment items. While we call it the Penguin Bowl, it’s more of an enrichment opportunity for the penguins.”
But no game would be complete without a little competition, and viewers could find it in the fight for MVP, standing for “Most Valuable Penguin.” The vote is decided by the comments on the Facebook livestream, where viewers have a chance to vote on their favorite penguin. While 11-year-old Ronde is the charismatic superstar of the bunch, adored by zoo-goers and already equipped with the 2018 MVP award, he was upstaged last year by 24-year-old Gnat, a grizzled veteran with the wisdom that age brings.
When the hour came to an end and the dust settled, Ronde had regained his rightful place on top, taking home his second MVP award in three years. Quite like the Super Bowl itself, the game gave each of the contenders a chance to etch their name in the history of their species.