A shopping centre has axed a festive meet-the-penguins outdoor event after pressure from animal rights activists.

Humboldt penguins at Calgary Zoo.

Humboldt penguins at Calgary Zoo. Image by Colby Stopa / CC BY 2.0

The Touchwood centre said the purpose of the Penguin Encounter, described as an educational event featuring endangered Humboldt birds, had been “misunderstood” by rights campaigners.

Management apologised to families and children who were hoping to meet the creatures.

The event had been run at the centre in Solihull, West Midlands, for the past three years without fuss but this year attracted the attention of activists from a group called Derby Animal Rights.

The group launched a petition on change.org calling for live penguins not to be used during the event, which went on to attract 632 signatures.

In a letter to the centre manager, activists said the animals needed “very specific care, habitats and space to be able to live life to the fullest” and urged a rethink.

Animal rights campaigners have now declared “victory” after hearing the December 20 event would now not go ahead.

In a statement initially released on Facebook, Touchwood said: “It is with regret that we have taken the decision to cancel the Penguin Encounter, scheduled to take place outside in Theatre Square at Touchwood on Sunday 20th December.

“This educational encounter has been held at Touchwood for the past three years and we are proud to have helped draw the public’s attention to the wonderful Humboldt penguin species, which in its natural habitat is endangered.

“We had hoped to raise yet more awareness this year, but the purpose of the encounter has been misunderstood by animal rights lobbyists.

“We sincerely apologise for any disappointment caused to the many children and families who were due to join us for what is always an informative day.”

In a letter to the centre’s management written before the event’s cancellation, Derby Animal Rights had said: “As well as welfare concerns, using wild animals as a form of ‘entertainment’ sends out the wrong educational messages to the public, in particular children.

“Animals like penguins do not belong on a High Street in the UK and this event does nothing to teach about conservation or respect for species and habitats.

“Your event looks set to be a really great, family focused event but the inclusion of the penguins makes it one I cannot attend, due to my concern for the animals.

“The use of animals in this way is increasingly being frowned upon by the general public, animal charities, experts and vets alike, so I really do hope you can reconsider your use of live animals at this event.”

There are estimated to be only a few thousand Humboldt penguins, native to Peru in South America, left in the wild.

(Press Association)