Yesterday, Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium announced the birth of two South African Penguin chicks. The young sea birds, whose genders are unknown at this time, hatched within two weeks of each other in early January and have been hand-reared behind-the-scenes by Aquarium animal training and veterinary staff members.
The chicks have gone through considerable changes in a short amount of time. They are currently fledging -- a process during which they lose the fluffy down feathers they were born with and begin growing juvenile plumage (the pictures below show their progress). After becoming fully fledged, the chicks will be “waterproof.” Then the animal care and training team will begin introducing them to water so they can learn to swim in a special pool away from the colony. Once they are strong swimmers, the team will gradually introduce the chicks to the penguin colony and their habitat though they will continue to be hand-raised behind-the-scenes.
South African Penguins are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. These chicks will serve as animal ambassadors in the Aquarium’s outreach programs, helping to raise awareness and educate guests about threats penguins face in the wild.
More to read, just after the jump!
Georgia Aquarium is a participating member of the African penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP), which provides breeding pair recommendations for participating Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions. The AZA’s SSP has the goal of maintaining or increasing genetic diversity, thus ensuring the longevity and sustainability of the species in human care. SSP programs significantly contribute to field conservation efforts, species recovery, veterinary care for wildlife disease issues, establishment of assurance populations, and public education, as well as many species-focused conservation efforts.
Many of Georgia Aquarium’s penguins are genetically valuable to the collection of African penguins in AZA institutions because they are not offspring of current birds in the population, and have yet to produce offspring of their own. Therefore, the SSP has recommended that Georgia Aquarium breed many of these genetically valuable birds to further diversify the gene pools of the North American population of African penguins.
“Georgia Aquarium is committed to conserving and protecting our aquatic world and the species that inhabit it, including the endangered South African penguin,” said Billy Hurley, chief zoological officer and senior vice president of zoological operations, Georgia Aquarium. “As leaders in aquatic animal care, conservation and research, we are very proud to welcome our first-ever African penguin chicks to our family at Georgia Aquarium. We will continue our commitment of helping to create sustainable animal populations both in the wild as well as in human care for the benefit of present and future generations.”
In 2010, Georgia Aquarium redesigned the African penguin habitat in the Georgia-Pacific Cold Water Quest gallery in order to create an environment that closely mimics their natural environment, including seasonal variations in light duration and intensity, which helps to promote natural breeding cycles within the colony. The exhibit redesign was successful as the Aquarium celebrates the birth of these sea birds.
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