Less than a month after they hatched, two baby African penguins will now be on display along with their parents and other penguins at the National Aviary. The hatching of chicks is a somewhat rare and much-celebrated event.
“This, unfortunately, is a critically endangered species in the wild,” said Chris Gaus, senior aviculturist at the National Aviary. “They’ve lost well over 90 percent of their wild population in the past century, close to 65 percent in the past decade. In fact, at their current decline rate it’s believed that they could be extinct in the wild in 10 to 15 years.”
There are an estimated 20,000 breeding pairs of African penguins left in the wild. These penguins and the aviary are part of a national species survival program that encourages genetic diversity in breeding and ultimately hopes to re-introduce the species to the wild.
“With their current decline rate, we’re not anywhere close to being able to doing any reintroduction,” said Gaus. “That’s where the importance for breeding for genetic diversity comes into play, so we can keep the program going so when we do get to that point, we have a nice healthy population that we can re-introduce into the wild.”
The penguin chicks have been with their parents until now. They have started being hand-fed by the aviary’s staff and are ready to be part of the African penguin display.
“They learn how to get comfortable with being picked up and handled by the staff and learning how to hand-feed from us,” said Gaus, “but also learning how to be an ambassador for their species so we can use them for various education programs on-site as well as outreach programs and appearances.”
The chicks got a medical exam Thursday and got a clean bill of health. They both weigh less than one pound, but will be near full grown (four or five pounds) within two or three months; their genders have not been determined and they have yet to be named. The National Aviary plans to hold an online auction to name one of the babies.