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Move over Zion Williamson; New Orleans has a new Zion in town

Pelicans, Zion Williamson

The people in New Orleans may not be able to watch Zion Williamson soar for the New Orleans Pelicans anytime soon, but they can at least get to know another Zion in the mean time.

The Audobon Nature Institute named one of their latest newborn African penguin chicks after the Pelicans rookie sensation. The Institute shared images of the newborn penguin on Tuesday and invited Williamson to meet his “little brother” and “namesake”. The Institute commended the Pelicans forward for his generosity in the community during the coronavirus pandemic that has upended life for so many people around the globe.

The 19-year old had graciously pledged to financially support employees of the Smoothie King Center for 30 days soon after the NBA announced it was suspending the regular season due to the outbreak of COVID-19. In his post, he expressed his gratitude to the New Orleans community for being “incredibly welcoming and supportive” since he relocated to Louisiana to begin his career.

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The people of New Orleans have been incredibly welcoming and supportive since I was Drafted by the Pels last June, and some of the most special people I have met are those who work at smoothie King Center. These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization. Unfortunately, many of them are still recovering from long term challenges created by Katrina, and now face the economic impact of the postponement of games because of the virus. My mother has always set an example for me about being respectful for others and being grateful for what we have, and so today I am pledging to cover the salaries for all of those Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days. This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis. This is an incredibly resilient city full of some of the most resilient people, but sometimes providing a little extra assistance can make things a little easier for the community.

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Soon after Zion announced his magnanimous intentions, Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson committed $1 million to set up a COVID-19 fund, in addition to various other pledges to help those affected by the pandemic.

In an Instagram post, the Audobon Nature Institute elaborated on Penguin Zion’s backstory.

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Egg-citing news! An absolutely adorable African penguin chick named Zion hatched at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas on February 17, 2020, after a 39-day incubation period. 🐧 We chose the name Zion in honor of @pelicansnba rookie @ZionWilliamson. In this time of uncertainty, Zion embraced the New Orleans community with a truly remarkable act of generosity after NBA season halted. Zion is the offspring of penguin pair Hubig (mother) and Ocio (father). After spending approximately 11 days being raised with its parents, as sometimes happens, it needed to be removed and taken under human care. This is a very time-consuming process for animal care staff and is a testament to their dedication, especially right now since we are closed, and only essential staff are on site taking such great care of the animals. The African penguins at the Aquarium serve as ambassadors, teaching guests about the plight of this species in the wild due to human-wildlife conflict. We are proud to be able to contribute to the African Penguin @zoos_aquariums Species Survival Plan, and we hope to continue our breeding success year after year. #SavingSpecies #ClosedButStillCaring

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Zion (the penguin) was born Feb. 17. A few days prior, on Feb. 14, the Baton Rouge Zoo named its new giraffe Burreaux in honor of the LSU quarterback (and presumptive no. 1 pick) Joe Burrow, who won a Heisman Trophy and National Championship for the Tigers in 2019.

No word yet on if and when the two Zions will meet, but we will continue to provide updates on the situation.