What a difference a year makes. Last November, two male African penguins (Spheniscus demersus)
living at the Toronto Zoo made worldwide headlines after they took more
interest in each other than in members of the opposite sex.
the penguins—Pedro and Buddy—were brought to the zoo for breeding
purposes, it posed quite the conundrum for zookeepers who planned to
separate the pair in hopes that attractive females would catch their
As I wrote last year,
it wasn’t clear at the time if the penguins were truly homosexual or
just lonely, but now we have an update. The planned separation, it
seems, did the trick. Not only have Pedro and Buddy bonded with waiting
females, they have gone ahead and mated. This week their mates laid six precious new eggs.
If the eggs hatch next month—which isn’t guaranteed—it will be an
important success for the zoo’s effort to breed these endangered species
(also known as black-footed penguins), which have experienced a 75
percent wild population drop over the past two decades. The zoo hatched
three male penguins last year, all of which have survived.
This is actually Buddy’s second chance at fatherhood since last
November. He and his mate Farai incubated and hatched two chicks in
February, but neither survived. As the zoo wrote in a press release (pdf)
at the time, “Mortality of chicks is high within the first three weeks
after hatching with both wild and captive-bred penguins from any one of
several factors such as predation, competition from other pairs, weather
and the experience of the parents.”
Although Buddy and Pedro no longer act like a same-sex couple, two homosexual king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) in Denmark’s Odense Zoo recently became parents
after several years of cohabitation. A female penguin abandoned her egg
and the two males stepped in to save it.
Zookeepers had previously
noticed the males’ desire to be parents when the birds tried incubating
dead herring and then tested their skills with a ball before a real egg
became available. The birds took turns incubating the egg, which hatched
last month. By all accounts, the chick is doing well.