After nineteen long and penguin-less months, the Saint Louis Zoo re-opened its Penguin & Puffin Coast exhibit Thursday to the joy of St. Louisans of all ages, hundreds of whom bundled up against the cold to watch the unveiling.
Riverfront Times sent trusty photographer Micah Usher to capture the zoo's kickoff parade of king penguins, a significant (and adorable) moment in St. Louis history. He was the perfect candidate for the job: Usher routinely takes his camera for long walks after snow storms that keep the rest of St. Louis trapped inside eating bread, eggs and milk. Plus, his photos of cuddly puppies celebrating Mardi Gras at the 2015 Beggin' Pet Parade could cure even the darkest depression.
Yes, Usher was the man for the job. Little did we know, the job was more dangerous than we'd thought.
As the parade began, zookeepers kept excited audience members behind a rope to give the king penguins room to waddle. But Usher, wanting a close-up, walked into the scrum and knelt down in front of one.
"It was almost in my lap," Usher tells Daily RFT. "I almost petted it, and it gave me a friendly smack with his wing on my leg...For a second, I wasn't sure if he was going to turn into a killer penguin while he was getting personal with me."
That's when Usher felt a sharp pain on his leg. The penguin had bitten him on the knee, pecking him hard with its black and orange bill.
"It was a nice love bite," says Usher, bravely waving away the pain. "It didn't hurt, but it was surprising. It saw my knee and decided it would probably be a good thing to nom on."
Usher had fared better than former presidential nominee Newt Gingrich, who'd needed a Band-Aid after a penguin chomped his finger during a 2012 tour of the Saint Louis Zoo.
But the penguin wasn't done. Unsatisfied with Usher's knee, the penguin also pecked at another journalist's camera, Usher says, adding, "Glad it wasn't mine!"
Despite the harrowing ordeal, Usher captured several lovely moments at the Saint Louis Zoo's opening of Penguin & Puffin Coast. See them all here: Reopening St. Louis Zoo's Penguin & Puffin Coast