African penguins are an endangered species, and Seneca Park Zoo manages one of the leading breeding facilities for these birds in the world. African penguin chicks hatched at Seneca Park Zoo have been sent to 25 accredited zoos and aquariums across North America.
This month, more penguins were sent across the country in continuation of this program. We took the opportunity to ask General Curator David Hamilton some questions about how the breeding program works and why it’s so important for the future of African penguins:
How many penguins were sent from the Zoo this month? Where will they be living? Will they be breeding with other penguins there?
Four male penguins were sent to the Honolulu Zoo on October 6. The week after that, two went to the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey as well. These penguins may not have breeding recommendations in their new homes right away, but they most likely will eventually.
Why is it important to send penguins bred here at the Zoo to other institutions around the country?
If we were to just breed penguins here, we would pretty quickly fill up all our space and then wouldn’t be able to breed any more! Working with the other 48 institutions that house penguins provides more space and the ability to move animals around, which helps us continue with the project of building a sustainable population in conservation care.
Why are the genetics of the penguins bred here at the Zoo so special?
We have some good, diverse genetics here because we imported birds directly from South Africa when the exhibit first opened in 1997. Most importantly, we have had expert keeper and veterinary care for the colony that has enabled us to keep the colony going and productive for so many years.
Is there a certain time of year or a schedule for when the Zoo sends penguins elsewhere? Or are they being sent all the time?
We can’t send the penguins in extremely hot or cold conditions. So they typically leave here in the spring and fall. Because they molt (shed their feathers in the spring), that tends to push most of the transfers to the fall.
We have 11 penguins that are going to other zoos this year. They are going to the east coast, the deep south and all the way to Hawaii.
What is the ultimate goal of our penguin breeding program?
The ultimate goal is a long-term sustainable population that can maintain 90% genetic diversity for 100 years or longer.