AWAY from the colony, the emperor penguin tucks his flippers behind his back and waddles languidly towards a dark, rocky horizon. The great auk shuffles alongside.
“I didn’t catch your name,” the auk says.
“All these documentaries about how brave and loyal and loving you are have clearly gone to your snooty little head,” the auk complains. “Pompous you may be, but hear my story you will.”
“Now he’s getting all Yoda,” the penguin sighs. “But, you’re ugly enough, so go ahead.”
“We great auks had a lot in common with penguins,” the auk says. “Clumsy on land, but great swimmers. We could dive to 250ft. We mated for life. Like you, we nested in dense, social colonies. We trusted humans. But you always had one big advantage over us.”
“Antarctica. We lived alongside humans in the northern hemisphere, long before they knew of land and ice at the South Pole. We were a source of food for them for 100,000 years. In Europe and America they used our feathers to make pillows. They ate our eggs and brought rats to our islands that killed our young. When they realised we were disappearing we became prizes for collectors, and the hunting went on.
“The last pair were killed on Eldey, off the coast of Iceland, in June 1844. The humans reckon they saw a great auk on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in 1852, but if they did it was a solitary bird. Doomed, in other words.”
“What you say only confirms what I keep telling the colony,” the penguin says. “Always complaining, they are. ‘It’s too cold!’ ‘It’s too far for dinner!’ ‘Let’s move north!’ they whine, and I tell them, ‘We’re not moving north. It’s grim up north.’ Perhaps you should tell them what you’ve told me?”
“No. I can’t do that.”
“My name’s Pete. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Please will you tell them?”
“You’re not fat and ugly. I was just teasing.”
“Our limited range made us vulnerable,” the auk says. “We couldn’t move or adapt. We were sitting…er…ducks. And so, Peter Penguin, are you.”
“But humans love us! We’re movie stars! Morgan Freeman said we deserved Oscars and a slap-up fish supper!”
“It won’t matter. Humans are not threatening you directly.”
“So how are they threatening us?”
“Follow me. I’ll show you.”
To be continued…