Biologists from the California Academy of Sciences excitedly announced that two African Penguin chicks have recently hatched, as part of the aquarium’s Species Survival Plan program.
Hatched just days apart on November 1 and November 4, the two chicks, whose sexes will be announced in the coming days, are currently nesting with their parents behind-the-scenes and will soon go through what biologists refer to as “fish school.” There, they will learn to become proficient swimmers and grow comfortable eating fish hand-fed from a biologist to prepare them for twice-daily public feedings once they join the colony on exhibit.
“We’re thrilled to welcome these two new chicks into our African Penguin colony and are even more delighted about our continued success in maintaining a healthy, genetically diverse population among zoos and aquariums,” says Bart Shepherd, Director of the Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium. “By engaging the public about why sustaining these and other threatened species is so critical, we hope to inspire people around the world to join us by supporting conservation efforts locally and internationally.”
African Penguins were classified as an endangered species in 2010 and are at very high risk of extinction in the wild. The Academy’s African Penguins are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), aimed at maintaining genetic diversity of captive populations through controlled breeding and collaborative exchange of offspring among partner zoos and aquariums. The Academy has a long and successful history of breeding African Penguins as part of the SSP for this species. In January 2013, the Academy hatched its first chick, since moving into its new Golden Gate Park facility in 2008.
The Academy is also working to protect the sustainability of African Penguin populations in the wild. Later this month, Academy assistant curator, Vikki McCloskey, and biologist Crystal Crimbchin, will travel to South Africa to collaborate with SANCCOB, a leading marine conservation organization that works to rescue, rehabilitate, and release populations of abandoned seabirds, especially threatened African Penguins. Working as part of the Chick Bolstering Project, they will hand-rear chicks that have been abandoned by their parents and introduce these birds back into the wild. A recent study reports that African Penguin chicks who have been abandoned by their biological parents and reared by humans show similar survival rates once released into the wild as chicks raised by their own parents from birth, an important indicator in species conservation.
The Academy’s new chicks are the second and third to be hatched from white-banded father ‘Robben’ and white-banded mother ‘Ty’, a recommended breeding pair due to their genetically valuable gene pools. On average, it takes one year for African Penguins to lose their juvenile plumage and develop their tuxedo-like appearance. For now, the chicks are fluffy, grey, and spending important bonding time with their parents, behind-the-scenes. The Academy plans to hold a naming contest for the chicks, once they are on public exhibit in late January.