Shannon Fletcher-Anderson, 27, Penguin Whisperer
When you see Shannon Fletcher and the Greensboro Science Center’s African penguins together, it’s obvious how much she loves them – and how much they adore her.
As a keeper at the center, Shannon spends every day with some of the center’s most charismatic and popular animals. She’s responsible for cleaning, feeding and making food for the center’s nine Asian small-clawed otters and 20 African penguins. The penguins flock to her the moment she enters their exhibit. They fight for her attention – each in his or her own way.
“They are just like people,” she says. “You’ve got some that are really outgoing and really brave and very confident, and then you have some that are really shy and really sweet. Each bird has a distinct, individual personality.”
She loves their funny mannerisms and big personalities. “They make me laugh every day,” Shannon says.
The Greensboro Science Center is one of just a handful of zoos in the world that have been carefully chosen to be a part of the Species Survival Plan for these African penguins. They breed the endangered marine birds, playing matchmaker to bird couples chosen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population.
“We’re a jack of all trades. We’re nurses, housekeeping, maintenance, nutritionists and matchmakers,” Shannon says.
Shannon, who’s been with the science center since 2014, has proven to be a skilled matchmaker. Under her watchful eye, Tag and Apollo became parents in February.
“I’m pretty proud. I am proud of the pair. They are wonderful parents,” Shannon says. “When you see the pair (rearing their chick) together, that is pretty awesome.”
Shannon loves all her penguins. But Raven, who will turn two years old this October, is her favorite.
“She’s kind of wonderful. She is my buddy,” Shannon says. “She greets me every single morning. During the penguin feed she likes to sit on my lap. If we have people coming on exhibit she doesn’t know, she is my personal body guard.”
“I call her my little penguin soulmate.”