Toronto Zoo is proud to announce the successful hatching of four African Penguin chicks!
The yet-to-be-named chicks will be viewable in their Indoor Viewing Area beginning Friday, April 14 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm daily.
It was determined after hatching that three of the four chicks were female, which is good news for the North American zoo population, which is predominantly male. Male and female penguins look similar, so a DNA test was required to determine their sex.
A new breeding pair, Thandiwe and Matata, laid the first two chicks. The couple was recommended to breed by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), and although they bonded very quickly, they didn’t do well at incubating their eggs.
Their first egg was laid on January 5, 2017 and the Keeper team swiftly intervened and swapped the egg to be raised by surrogate parents Ziggy and DJ, who have been great penguin parents in the past. Thandiwe laid the second egg a few days later on January 8, 2017, and Keepers were initially delighted to see her sitting on the egg very tightly, however she had to sit on the egg for seven days in a row. In the wild, penguin parents trade off egg-sitting duties as they both need to hunt and drink, however, Matata was a first-time parent and did not participate in sitting on the egg. As a result, the second egg was also given to another set of surrogates and proven parents, Shaker and Flap.
The last two chicks hatched from eggs that were laid by another brand new SSP pair, Eldon and Chupa, who are viewed as genetically important. This pair got along very well, however, given their genetic importance, it was decided to also use surrogates for their first egg. In fact, since DJ and Ziggy were viewed as the most reliable parents, this egg replaced the first egg from the other pair, which in turn went to another proven pair: Squeak and Pedro. A few days later on January 25, 2017, Eldon laid a second egg, which was left with the new pair to raise on their own and they did a great job. Needless-to-say, managing penguin chicks is tricky business! The chicks hatched on February 12, February 15, February 27 and March 4, respectively.
Incubation by the parents occurs for just over a month, then the hatched chicks stay with their parents in the nest for another 3 weeks. By this point the chicks are large and mobile enough for the Penguin Keepers to hand-raise them.
Currently, Toronto Zoo Keepers are teaching the chicks to be hand-fed fish and to get on a scale for daily weigh-ins. Recently, the Keepers gave them their first swimming lesson. The Zoo’s hope is for them to be ready to “fledge” and join their colony at around 80 days.
The arrival of the four chicks signifies a great achievement for these new penguin parents and the Zoo’s African Savanna Wildlife Care staff. This breeding season the Zoo was able to reach 100% of their SSP pairing and breeding goals.
The Toronto Zoo penguins help draw attention to this imperiled species. Of the 18 penguin species around the world, the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is one of the most endangered. They are officially classified as “Endangered” by the IUCN. The current population size in the wild for the African Penguin is less than half of what it was 40 years ago, which equals only about 3 generations for penguins. Factors still affecting their decline include lack of food (due to climate change and over-fishing), disease, predation, and pollution (mainly oil spills). Today, there are fewer than 20,000 breeding pairs left in South Africa.