If you have visited the Zoo during the coldest of the winter months, you probably would describe it as peaceful and quiet. For the keepers in the African black-footed penguin building however, it’s anything but!
October through April is the peak nesting season for our penguin colony and this year, they have been especially busy! In the past month, five chicks have hatched to three different sets of parents. These tiny additions have added quite a bit of extra work for their caretakers.
On top of the normal two feedings a day, parents rearing chicks are offered fish several more times daily. Zoo keepers diligently record fish intake, making sure each parent has enough to sustain themselves as well as their offspring. Every other day (from hatch to day 80 – when chicks are weaned from their parents) they are weighed. This is to ensure they fall within the normal weight range for parent-reared chicks. If at any time a chick falls below an acceptable weight, night feedings are incorporated into the program.
On the days chicks are weighed, keepers also perform a mini physical exam; eyes should be bright and free of discharge, the chick should be vocal and alert, and after a couple of weeks they should be relatively mobile. Just as they would in the wild, parents do all the work, from the moment the egg is laid until the chick is weaned. That said, keepers are the first line of defense if something doesn’t seem quite right within these first, fragile few weeks of life.
Photos by Kara Masaschi
In 2010, the African black-footed penguin was listed as an endangered species. In the early 1900s, the wild population was estimated at more than 1.5 million individuals. Today about 20,000 birds remain, with a 60% loss of population within the past 30 years. This is largely due to food base declines; competition with the fishing industry and Cape fur seals, as well as a major shift in prey due to changes in their ecosystem. Habitat destruction and oil spills have also contributed greatly to the decline in the African black-footed penguin population.
In an effort aimed to help their species, the penguins at Seneca Park Zoo are carefully managed by a Species Survival Program (SSP). This program is a collaborative effort among AZA accredited zoos and aquariums in North America to breed the most genetically diverse population of this penguin species. Maybe someday, chicks hatched right here at Seneca Park could help replenish this endangered species in the wild.
Be sure to stop by our Penguin Exhibit early this spring to see the newest members of our colony!
– Kara Masaschi, Assistant Curator