Zookeepers have been left in a flap after a shortage of penguins forced them to fill a brand new enclosure with plastic models. File picture: Reuters/Ilya Naymushin

Telford - Zookeepers have been left in a flap after a shortage of penguins forced them to fill a brand new enclosure with plastic models.

Exotic Zoo in Telford, Shropshire, had spent thousands of pounds on the specialist attraction, which had been due to open in the summer holidays.

But visitors were left disappointed when a UK outbreak of avian malaria meant bosses were unable to take delivery of six Humboldt penguins, which are native to South America.

Zoo director Scott Adams instead decided to fill the empty enclosure with plastic imitations until they can get hold of the real thing, so they can "at least educate visitors to some extent".

Mr Adams, 35 – who regularly appears as an animal expert on TV – said: "We’ve just timed it really badly. The enclosure is the zoo’s most expensive to date."

"But then disaster struck. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years there was a really bad case of penguin malaria that swept through the UK."

Avian malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitos, has caused a shortage of penguins bred in captivity. It can be fatal for birds such as penguins that have not developed a resistance to it.

It has been particularly tough for smaller zoos like Mr Adams’s, which find it harder to get hold of new stock. With no arrivals expected until numbers replenish, Mr Adams plans to dress up a staff member as a penguin at Christmas to entertain children.

Zoo visitor Julie Fearn, 44, from Shrewsbury, said yesterday: "It does look a bit weird."