NEW YORK – They arrive every year in their stylish black and white tuxedos, causing traffic jams and clamoring for quality real estate.
Endangered African penguins have long been a source of delight for visitors to the South African community of Simon’s Town, mingling with humans as they carried out their penguin duties, which includes the important of find a nest and breed.
Now, these creatures are the stars of a new eight-part series on Netflix which debuted Wednesday called “Penguin Town,” which follows several of the birds and reveals their personalities, from a middle-aged couple dubbed “the poster penguins for monogamy “to a young bachelor in search of his mate.
“It became very clear very quickly that it was like watching a reality show like ‘Love Island’ or ‘Big Brother’,” said Cayley Christos, field producer on “Penguin Town” and co-owner of the production company. Red Rock Films.
“I know people don’t like to anthropomorphize all the time, but it’s hard not to when they have these personalities so clearly,” she added. “And so we really had no choice but to make it really personal.”
The show is narrated by comedian Patton Oswalt, a voiceover veteran. “I jumped at the chance because I watched a lot of raw footage and was kind of blown away by how enchanting and sweet it was.”
Of the roughly 1,000 breeding pairs that arrive each mating season, the filmmakers capture identifiable characters, including a whimsical misfit they call “Junior” and a pack of disruptive penguins known as ” Car Park Gang “.
“You really get attached to some of these personalities,” Oswalt said. “You follow all these little stories and you root for these guys.”
Behind the sweetness hides a serious business. Only 2% of the African penguin population remains compared to the number that existed 100 years ago. Christos cites estimates that the species is around 10 years old before extinction.
Two of the stars of the show pose for a photo in Simon’s Town. (Netflix via AP)
“Living among people is not easy. It is not the best place for them. They really should be on an island, but they have no choice. They prefer to face these huge giants who walk around. them all day rather than die, ”she said. noted.
Flightless waterfowl began to appear in Simon’s Town, Western Cape, in the early 1980s, as boat traffic around their natural habitat increased. They usually arrive in November and stay for six months.
“Slowly, slowly, slowly, they realized it was a pretty safe and nice place. They weren’t attacked by ground predators,” Christos said.
Initially, the arrival of the colony was greeted with some dismay by the residents. “Like any good wild animal, they walk and poop in people’s backyards. And so I think that’s been an interesting adjustment,” she said.
Locals quickly realized that penguins were a tourist draw and a potential source of income. “They really are gods in this city and everyone’s businesses are named after them.”
The Red Rock Films team initially focused on around 80 nests, then narrowed the list down to 50 pairs that they would follow around the clock. One more cut took them to the final five to focus on. .
The filmmakers used all kinds of equipment to capture the penguins – nesting cameras, drones, waterproof cameras, special tripods, and an anti-gravity platform. The 30-member team was so committed to the environment that they pledged to abstain from meat and fish for the eight months of filming, adopting an exclusively plant-based diet.
While light-hearted and fun, the series may also have something to say about how humans can live peacefully with animals, finding a way to achieve mutual benefit.
“I love that history shows that you can coexist. Even though it’s a crazy bird that loves water, you can live with them and it can be peaceful coexistence. I think it’s a good recipe. for us other species that we meet, ”said Christos.