finance

Why the penguin post office is desperate for some non-feathered customers


Name: Penguin post office.

Age: Built in 1944.

Appearance: A black shack surrounded by snow and penguins.

Location: Port Lockroy, Antarctica.

Funny place for a post office. That’s sort of the point. Cruise ships disembark tourists there so they can send postcards from the bottom of the world.

From the bottom of the world to where? To anywhere else in the world, although they can take weeks or even months to arrive.

Wouldn’t it be quicker to take the postcard home with you and mail it from there? Then it wouldn’t have a stamp with a penguin on it.

Do a lot of tourists make this pilgrimage? About 18,000 annually – that’s two cruise ships a day at the height of the season.

When is the season? Normally it would start about now – the beginning of the austral summer – but thanks to Covid there is no season: no cruise ships, no tourists, no postcards.

And no penguins. The penguins are still there, but they don’t buy much.

A post office with no customers? I think I just found my dream job. Where do I sign up? Normally there’s a fairly arduous application process to select workers for the annual four-month stint, but it got cancelled because of Covid.

So there’s nothing going on down there. And that’s a problem. Proceeds from the post office and the gift shop help to fund the maintenance of Port Lockroy, a former British base now run by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT).

How much are we talking about? A potential shortfall of £1m.

From postcards? The minimum spend at the shop is US$10. And it’s not as if there’s a better shop next door.

Well, I’d love to help, but I’m miles away. Can I send them a postcard asking to buy a postcard? They would prefer it if you just gave money – UKAHT has secured the help of Sir Ranulph Fiennes in a campaign to raise donations.

The peerless explorer who once cut off his own frostbitten fingertips with a fretsaw? That’s him. He’s worried even a temporary halt to the ongoing repair of the historic outpost will lead to irreparable damage. “It’s hugely important that these sites, which signify the best of human endeavour, are maintained and that UKAHT continues its work,” he says.

Do I get a postcard? No, but you can buy a mug with penguins on it from the online shop.

Do say: “Weather cold, lots to tell, but I expect I’ll see you before you get this.”

Don’t say: “I’m a penguin – put it on my account.”



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