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Merry march: Popular 'penguin walk' kicks off at Hokkaido zoo

A flock of king penguins take a stroll on the fresh snow at Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, on Dec. 24, 2021. (Mainichi/Taichi Kaizuka)

ASAHIKAWA, Hokkaido -- Asahiyama Zoo's traditional winter "penguin walk," in which a group of penguins waddles down a designated course through the zoo twice a day and gives visitors a chance at a close look of them, kicked off on Dec. 25.

    A rehearsal walk was held the day before, and the penguins marched, and sometimes slid on their bellies, on a roughly 400-meter roundtrip course from the penguin house. The event will be held twice daily -- at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. -- until around mid-March when the snow melts from the ground.

    A flock of king penguins take a stroll on the fresh snow at Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, on Dec. 24, 2021. (Mainichi/Taichi Kaizuka)

    The annual event, started in 2002 to get the penguins to exercise during the winter, has become a popular event among visitors as they get to see the animals close up. This year's start is around 10 days later than in a usual year due to a lack of snow settling. During the Dec. 24 rehearsal, 16 king penguins dashed out from the gate at once and walked for about half an hour on the fresh snow that had fallen just the night before.

    Tensei Kato, 8, who was visiting the zoo from Tokyo with his parents during his elementary school winter break, said of the penguins, "They were bigger than I'd imagined. It was also cute how they flapped their wings." His 42-year-old mother, Midori, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We were lucky to see their rehearsal on Christmas Eve."

    (Japanese original by Nobuaki Tsuchiya, Asahikawa Bureau)

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