Captive Penguins Given Drugs To Fight Depression

The dozen Humboldt penguins held in captivity at the Scarborough Sea Life sanctuary in the UK are a favorite among visitors craning for a peek at exotic animals -- but for the birds themselves, life so far from their natural habitat has got them feeling down.

Keepers say that the penguins, native to the balmier climes of South African coast, are having a difficult time adjusting to the Britain's wet and windy winter weather -- exhibiting tell-tale signs of depression. The birds had been preferring to stay out of sight in their enclosure rather than pleasing the sanctuary's paying guests with their antics.

"It's hard to describe a miserable penguin," says curator Lyndsey Crawford to the Yorkshire Post. "But they tend to hang their heads down facing the ground and just stand around rather than being active."

However, instead of considering relocating the animals to a more appropriate locale to stave off the blues, Sea Life staff have instead turned to drugs. Twice a day, each of the penguins are now fed fish laced with the antidepressant medication Sporanox to create the illusion for visitors that all is well with the penguins.

"Now the medication has started to kick in they are starting to perk up and they are feeding really well," says Crawford.

Not surprisingly, penguins aren't the only animals to show signs of depression from spending years in cramped enclosures, settings that are a far cry from their natural habitats. Over the last decade, zoos and other facilities around the world have stepped up the use of drugs, often the same ones used to treat humans, to relieve anxiety in animals -- an artificial fix that fails to address their discomfort with captivity.