If everything seems awful and stressful right now, remember this.

The sight of you makes the newest penguin in St. Paul very happy.

Amahle, a wee black-footed penguin, arrived at the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory just as the pandemic was shutting everything down. When it was finally safe for visitors to mask up and book a visit online, Amahle discovered her new favorite reality show.

“She was right up against the window, checking everyone out, having a blast,” said senior zookeeper Andrew Nerness.

If you need a break from politics, pandemics and the fact that black-footed penguins are on the endangered species list, think about this.

Staff at Como Park spend their days making sure all the critters at the storied city zoo and conservatory are safe, comfortable and happy. Part of keeping penguins happy means playing penguin games.

“We give the animals toys, puzzles, different food items to scavenge around to find,” Nerness said.

How do you puzzle a penguin?

“They love their wiffle balls. We put bubbles in the tank. They love their bubbles,” he said. “We had a little remote-controlled shark that we put in the water and they were chasing around.”

There are things you can do to help fix what’s broken in the world. Vote, volunteer, wear a mask. But take care of yourself too. Rest, hydrate, read a good book, go for a walk.

When it feels like everything is happening too fast and all at once, that might be a good time to see a sloth.

Visitors to Como Park book appointments online in half-hour blocks, then follow a winding one-way path through the facility.

“It’s kind of like having the place to yourself,” Nerness said. “You don’t feel crowded or rushed. You enter and move about at your own pace.”

In the airy Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, crews are setting up for this weekend’s fall flower show in the sunken garden. In the zoo’s Tropical Encounter exhibit, visitors might encounter frogs, birds or reptiles tucked behind leaves in the greenhouse exhibit. If they crane their necks up, they might spot Chloe the sloth, blinking down sleepily from her tree.

“She’s probably my favorite,” Nerness said of Chloe, who follows a relatable pandemic regimen of naps, disheveled hair and enrichment activities that center mainly around hunting for the snacks her keepers hide around the exhibit.

The monthslong pandemic shutdown was the longest in Como Park’s century-long history. But not a single staffer and not a single animal has tested positive for the virus so far. Now the visitors are returning, and so are the donations needed for penguin wiffle balls and sloth snacks. Give to the Max Day is coming up, and if you’d like to chip in, there’s a donation link on the zoo’s home page.

Meanwhile, remember : Even when everything seems awful and stressful, someone, somewhere is piloting a remote-controlled shark around a tank for no other reason than to make a penguin happy.

People are capable of great kindness and great joy and great silliness. Remember that and try to destress from election distress.

To book a free appointment to visit the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, visit comozooconservatory.org.

 

jennifer.brooks@startribune.com

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