Metro Weekly

Gay male penguins raising chick they successfully hatched

Egg was given to a pair of same-sex foster parents after keepers determined the biological parents posed harm to the developing embryo.

The penguin chick successfully hatched by Elmer and Lima, a same-sex couple. – Photo: Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

A gay penguin couple at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York, are now raising the chick who hatched from the egg they successfully incubated.

Elmer and Lima, two male penguins, are the first same-sex penguin parents at the zoo, which is home to an internationally-renowned program to save Humboldt penguins, which have been classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as “vulnerable,” meaning they are at high risk of becoming extinct in the wild unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve.

In the case of Humboldt penguins, which are native to coastal areas in Chile and Peru, the wild population is declining due to habitat loss and climate change.

Although the zoo has at least two breeding pairs of penguins, it has relied on foster parents to incubate eggs, due to a history of breeding pairs inadvertently breaking their fertilized eggs.

In fact, Elmer, one of the same-sex parents, earned his name because the animal care team had to repair his egg with Elmer’s glue before he hatched after his own parents accidentally damaged it, a press release from the zoo says.

In cases where breeding parents may pose potential harm to their own eggs, keepers often swap a dummy egg for a real one, and give the real one to a pair who can better take care of the egg and incubate it until the baby chick is ready to hatch.

In this instance, keepers decided that the parents, Poquita and Vente, were not able to properly take care of the egg and bring the chick to term, so they swapped out the egg and gave Elmer and Lima the chance to incubate it.

The chick successfully hatched on January 1, and since then the couple have been brooding, or warming, and feeding the chick. When the chick was five days old, keepers found it to be healthy, weighing about 8 ounces. 

Zoo Director Ted Fox said that not all penguin pairs are good at incubating eggs, noting that it “takes practice” to bring a chick successfully to term. He said Elmer and Lima were “exemplary in every aspect of egg care” and have since been “doing a great job” brooding and taking care of the chick — a success that puts them into consideration when looking for foster parents to incubate other eggs in the future.

The successful hatching is also good news for Humboldt penguins more generally, who need to grow their numbers if they’re ever to avoid extinction. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo joined the Species Survival Plan for Humboldt penguins in 2005 with the opening of its Penguin Coast exhibit, beginning with 18 birds — taken from other zoos and aquariums that are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums — and producing chicks the very next year.

The current colony has 28 birds, but the zoo has been able to successfully hatch 55 penguin chicks, many of which have since been transferred to other AZA institutions as part of the Species Survival Plan.

Elmer and Lima are the first same-sex foster couple to successfully incubate an egg at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, although same-sex couples at other zoos have also successfully incubated eggs, including Electra and Viola, a female pair of Gentoo penguins at the Oceanogràfic Valencia aquarium in Spain; Skipper and Ping, a male pair of king penguins at the Berlin Zoo; Eduardo and Rio, a male pair of Magellanic penguins at the San Francisco Zoo; and Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo, who were one of the first gay foster pairs to hatch an egg. Another same-sex pair of Gentoo penguins at the London Aquarium, Rocky and Marama, successfully hatched the world’s first genderless penguin in 2019.

Fox said the success of same-sex penguin pairs in incubating and hatching eggs shows that the idea of “family” is not species-specific and that non-traditional families do a wonderful job of child-rearing.

“Elmer and Lima’s success at fostering is one more story that our zoo can share to help people of all ages and backgrounds relate to animals,” he said.

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