A seafood restaurant in an upscale West Jakarta shopping mall is the new talk of the town.
Pingoo restaurant opened its doors last December (2016) with a large aquarium on its back wall.
Besides serving seafood, it has 6 Humboldt penguins for customers to look at while having their meal.
The South-American native penguins are on loan from an Indonesian safari park in Cisarua, 2 hours outside of Jakarta. They are expected to stay at the restaurant for at least two years.
The park has bred Humboldt penguins for around 15 years and keeps around 50 penguins in its care.
The Jakarta Aquarium project that operates the restaurant claims the penguins on display are third-generation Indonesian-bred and well accustomed to the country’s warmer climate.
Organisers say the project aims to bring wild animals closer to the public, especially children, without the hassle of going to the zoo.
“Pingoo restaurant is a part of the Jakarta Aquarium project, and we decided to open the restaurant first ahead of the official opening of the Jakarta Aquarium. Our general concept is edutainment, which is to educate and entertain the public,” says Leo Lumanto, spokesman for the Jakarta Aquarium.
As part of its education program, the restaurant allows visitors to feed the penguins twice a day.
A group of 2 or 3 people are permitted to enter the aquarium during each feeding session that lasts 10 to 15 minutes.
Many guests come to the restaurant with children fascinated by penguins.
Stay-at-home mother Dewi Johan is here with her two children. She praises the aquarium for its effort to educate children.
“I think this is something positive. We live in the city and we don’t often see penguins and what they look like. Children may recognise penguins from books they read, but they may not have had the opportunity the see penguins in the flesh.”
Despite its location in a shopping mall, the restaurant claims that the aquarium adheres to the health and safety guidelines set by the International Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The aquarium has a temperature between 18 to 25 degree Celsius with rough beach rocks to replicate the natural South American coastal habitat of the Humboldt penguins.
A trained animal handler from the safari park looks after them. They are also monitored by a veterinary team around the clock.
Each penguin wears a ring on its wing with an ID number to track its origin and individual characteristics.
The penguin food is kept in a sanitized container, and each penguin is only allowed to eat between 600 grams to 1 kilogram of fish per meal.
The water in the pool and its filter are also regularly cleaned and changed once a week.
“We always monitor the acidity level of the pool in the aquarium. The life support system of the aquarium is separate from the mall, equipped with 24-hour electricity and 24-hour cleaning of the pool,” says Lumanto.
Both the restaurant and the Jakarta Aquarium project have insisted that the penguins are well treated, and they have secured all the necessary permits to bring them to the mall.
But earlier this year (15th January 2017) animal rights activists held a protest against the restaurant.
Fanny Wiratmadja belongs to the Animal Care Society. The organization raises awareness of animal welfare issues.
She argues that the penguins are a sales gimmick and are trapped inside the aquarium – and that does not make a good education for children.
“The restaurant has taken and kidnapped penguins that belong in the wild. They should have lived in a more proper environment and not inside an aquarium at a restaurant in a shopping mall. Restaurants should be selling food instead of animal shows,” she says.
Despite the protest, the restaurant has continued to attract more guests who come to enjoy the sight of the penguins.
The Jakarta Aquarium project is considering expanding its presence to other cities in Indonesia as part of a new trend for zoos in the country.