The San Diego Zoo’s animal care staff is celebrating the arrival of two new African penguin chicks at the Dan and Vi McKinney Penguin Habitat, located inside Conrad Prebys’ Africa Rocks. The fluffy pair of two-month-olds are the first chicks hatched at the Zoo from eggs laid by the colony’s resident penguin couples. They are named Doug and Barbara in honor of Douglas G. Myers, president/CEO of San Diego Zoo Global, and his wife Barbara Myers. Their arrival marks an important milestone for the Zoo’s breeding colony — and adds two more individuals to this endangered species’ worldwide population.
Doug and Barbara hatched in March from eggs laid by adult penguin pairs Norinne and Simon, and Danny and Malloy. Shortly after hatching, animal care staff began working diligently with the chicks, getting them used to human interaction. Staff said this early hands-on training is vital to providing effective husbandry care to the birds and the youngsters will be reintroduced into the colony within the next few weeks.
“Doug and Barbara are sweet, amazing birds and we want them to feel safe,” said Debbie Denton, keeper at the San Diego Zoo. “We work with them while they’re young because it helps them be comfortable around us when we feed them, do health checks, or change their name bands.”
The African penguin is listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Once one of southern Africa’s most abundant seabirds, the species has suffered a massive population decline—from an estimated 1 million breeding pairs to only 23,000 breeding pairs today, a population decrease of more than 60% in the past 28 years. Historically, penguin eggs and guano were commercially harvested, which had a devastating effect on the population. Although both practices were abolished toward the end of the 20th century, other threats — including a lack of readily available food due to overfishing, climate change, oil and marine pollution, the emergence of avian influenza A (H5N8) virus, habitat degradation and predation by seals, sharks and land-based predators — contribute to a continuing population decline.
San Diego Zoo Global participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan program for these endangered aquatic birds and partners with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds to help facilitate conservation programs in South Africa.
Doug and Barbara’s story will be featured on the San Diego Zoo’s first-ever “reality television”-style web series, called “Penguin Beach.” The new episodic show —scheduled to premiere this summer on Facebook, YouTube and the San Diego Zoo Kids channel — will focus on the dramatic, hilarious and often unexpected social dynamics of the San Diego Zoo’s colony of penguins. Viewers will also learn about the many facets of penguin life, including their individual personalities, and how they handle conflicts with their mates and their neighbors. San Diego Zoo animal care staff will provide insightful commentary, addressing “drama” in the colony while offering expert clarification on these birds’ natural behaviors.