By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – Doodle and Gilligan are the proud parents of two new African penguin chicks.
With a population that is quickly dwindling the latest additions to the NEW Zoo are welcome ones.
The first was born on New Years Day, and the second was born 4 1/2 days later.
Both are doing well.
“The parents are doing a great job feeding both chicks, but we didn’t see this one gain sufficient weight,” said Carmen Murach, curator of animals at the Northeast Wisconsin Zoo and Adventure Park.
Like a parent penguin Murach feeds the youngest one, using a syringe to put the food down into the newborns mouth.
Right now the father Gilligan is showing the most interest in the chicks of the two parents, but Murach wants to make sure the youngest gains enough weight.
That penguin will be raised by hand, instead of by its parents.
She said in comparison the oldest one’s head is about the size of the young ones body.
This is typical with penguins as it takes lots of nutrients to lay an egg, so the majority are used for the first one.
Having the second egg hatch at all is quite rare.
“It’s absolutely the most rewarding part of my job,” Murach said. “How lucky am I to be cuddling a baby penguin? But it’s an important penguin with their numbers declining rapidly.”
Native to South Africa, the African Penguin is an endangered species.
“A century ago guano harvest was a big thing,” Murach said. “African penguins burrow into the harvest they’ve collected for centuries. People came through a long time ago and stripped it and even now it’s not close to what it was.”
Other factors like overfishing and oil slicks also contributed to the decline of the African penguin.
But there is hope, the birds are finding new beaches in the wild and zoos like the NEW Zoo are helping repopulate the species.
The NEW Zoo is part of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which strives to get numbers back up.
AZA has a program called SAFE, Saving Animals From Extinction, where participating zoos are given specific data about repopulating species.
“The goal is to maintain genetic diversity as similar to the wild population as you can,” Murach said.
That means in addition to bring the animal curator Murach also plays animal matchmaker.
“One of the big challenges is we plan all of these arranged marriages for various species in the zoo,” she said. “We do all of this with analytics on what the best numbers are, but the animals have to agree with that.”
Doodle and Gilligan both went through the standard quarinte procedure when they came to Suamico. So they had about a month together before meeting the eight other penguins.
This was a great start to their relationship, especially considering the nature of the birds in general.
“With penguins they are a very social species, they really are,” Murach said. “There’s a lot of drama going on in penguin land.”
While penguins tend to find a mate for life, that doesn’t stop them from engaging in extramarital affairs now and again.
But the bond two penguin partners share is vital.
“They do bond very closely and that’s something that’s important. A penguin pair that is not bonded will not lay eggs,” Murach said.
Currently the newborn penguins need to get stronger. It takes about one month for them to stand and three months for them to be able to swim.
But come spring and summer the two new penguins will be able to join the flock and will be available for the public to view.
In the meantime a contest to name the two babies will likely happen in the near future.
People can keep an eye on NEW Zoo on Facebook for more details.
There are many ways of helping the zoo continue its mission, but the easiest one is to just visit.
Until March 31 the zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
More information can be found at newzoo.org.