COULD BE WORSE – YOU COULD BE AN EMPEROR PENGUIN

If you need something to help you feel less sorry for yourself as we head into these firstl weeks of winter, rent the documentary March of The Penguins. What those birds endure is life stripped to the bone.

There?s no career, no Olympian-type dreams, not even a pair of boots with kitten heels marked down 40% at the mall to help get them through the winter. For emperor penguins there is simply one goal – baby emperors – and baby emperors do not come cheap.

Every April the penguins start the cycle by returning to the breeding grounds where they were born, selecting a partner and producing an egg. By May or early June, the female hands the egg over to the father?s care and heads back to the ocean to feed for the first time since they left for the breeding grounds. Two months later the female returns to take over and the starving male – who hasn?t been wined or dined for well over 100 days and has lost 40 per cent of his body weight – immediately sets off at a slow determined shuffle for the sea to find a bite to eat. Let me tell you, that damn Leonardo had better not have lost my reservation . . .

The entire time they are huddled together in a frozen hell.

Well, actually it?s a desert, but it?s a frozen desert. Not to be confused with a frozen dessert, not even a DQ Blizzard. A desert is defined as a region that has less than 254 mm (10 in) of precipitation.

The average snowfall in Antarctica is around 50 mm (about 2 in) – less than the Sahara. Unlike the Sahara, there is little evaporation, so what snow does fall stays – forever. The wind takes this build-up of snow and tosses it about creating disorienting whiteouts, especially since there are no trees or landmarks to help give you a sense of depth.

One time a base doctor went to visit a penguin rookery about five kilometres from base camp and on the way back he was caught in a whiteout. Through the swirling snow, he thought he saw the base cook waving to him from a distance of 200 to 300 metres. A few footsteps later, he squashed the base cook beneath his boot – the base cook turning out to be not a base cook at all, but simply a penguin feather stuck in the snow and flapping in the wind – now that?s disorienting!

Temperatures can drop as low as -89.2 and add to that the ever prevalent wind that can reach speeds of 320 km an hour, and well, you can see why penguins seldom dwell on careers, personal accolades or find time to get silly on a Saturday night and shoot things up at the 7-11.

Even Pilates and botox injections – gasp – seldom cross their minds. It all comes down to that singular egg and the necessity of keeping it warm long enough to hatch so it can grow up to do the same; and so on, and so on and so on.

Scientists have smirked at the penguin documentary, saying that the film anthromorphized (science-speak for attributing human emotions onto animal or inanimate objects) the lives of the penguins.

They insist that Penguins do not feel emotions; only instinct. Even though they nuzzle and coo during the courtship period, they do not experience love like humans do.

For instance, the penguins are only inseparable during mating; once the egg comes along they spend the rest of the year taking turns looking after the chick while the other shuffles off to work – I mean the ocean. The male starts hanging out with other males and the female spends most of her time starving and then going off to binge with other females. Once the chick is old enough to look after itself, the parents most likely will never want to see each other – and will seldom hear from their offspring – again. Next year, they will probably choose a new partner to mate with. See? Penguins are nothing like humans; nothing at all.