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New African Penguin at California Academy of Sciences


Biologists at the California Academy of Sciences recently announced that a new African Penguin chick hatched on May 4. The 16-day-old chick is currently bonding, behind-the-scenes, with dad, ‘Robben’, and mom, ‘Ty’. The new chick will join the rest of the colony, on exhibit, in the coming months. The Academy will also announce the chick’s gender and name, via social media, in the next few weeks.



4_May_Chick-8422Photo Credits: California Academy of Sciences

African Penguins were classified as an endangered species in 2010 and are at very high risk of extinction in the wild. This new arrival represents the fourth African Penguin chick to hatch at the Academy this year, as part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSP programs are aimed at maintaining genetic diversity of captive populations through controlled breeding and collaborative exchange of offspring among AZA partner zoos and aquariums. The Academy has a long and successful history of breeding African Penguins as part of the SSP program for this species. 

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums recently launched a new program. “AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction” is AZA’s newest conservation initiative. It is aimed at saving endangered species by restoring healthy populations in the wild. AZA SAFE will leverage the collective expertise and resources of the AZA member community, which includes 229 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums across the country, to increase conservation outcomes and impact and engage the public.

The African Penguin is a species confined to southern African waters. It is widely known as the “jackass” penguin for its donkey-like bray. Like all extant penguins it is flightless, with a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine habitat. Adults weigh, on average, 4.9 to 7.7 lbs (2.2 to 3.5 kg) and are 24 to 28 inches (60 to 70 cm) tall. It has distinctive pink patches of skin above the eyes and a black facial mask; the body upper parts are black and sharply delineated from the white underparts, which are spotted and marked with a black band. The pink gland above the eyes helps the penguins to cope with changing temperatures. The African Penguin is a pursuit diver and feeds primarily on fish and squid.

They are monogamous and breed in colonies, returning to the same site each year. The African Penguin has an extended breeding season, with nesting usually peaking from March to May, in South Africa, and November and December in Namibia. A clutch of two eggs is laid either in burrows dug in guano, or scrapes in the sand under boulders or brush. Both parents undertake incubation equally for about 40 days. At least one parent guards the chicks until about 30 days. After that, the chick joins the crèche with other chicks, and both parents head out to sea to forage. Chicks fledge at 60 to 130 days and go to sea, on their own.

Once extremely numerous, the African Penguin is declining due to a combination of threats and is currently classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.