What better moment than Valentine’s Day to throw the spotlight on African penguins, one of the few truly monogamous creatures of the animal kingdom. In fact, an African penguin will typically connect to and stay with their mate throughout their lifespan – maintaining a loyalty to that partner that’s downright enviable to us humans.
Despite this, the social world of an African penguin colony is a complex and fascinating one, filled with new relationships, chicks hatching, family squabbles and arranged marriages.
Yes, that’s right. We said arranged marriages. Before you can say – how does that happen?!, we’re here to give you the details on this fascinating story and introduce you to Adventure Aquarium’s newest designated breeding pair.
Arranged ‘marriages’ mean the continuation of a species
In order to truly understand the purpose of arranged penguin relationships, you need some background. See, African penguins are an endangered species, whose wild South Africa population continues to decline. Thankfully, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), in partnership with institutions across the United States, is doing something about it with their Species Survival Plan® (SSP).
The mission of the SSP is to cooperatively manage specific, and typically threatened or endangered, species populations within AZA-accredited Zoos and Aquariums, Certified Related Facilities, and Approved Non-Member Participants. With this in mind, the SSP evaluates African penguin bloodlines to designate proper breeding pairs. The SSP deems two penguins to be a genetically valuable breeding pair by studying genetics, and matches them with participating institutions.
As an SSP-sanctioned facility, Adventure Aquarium works with the AZA to ensure the continuation of a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically stable population. In October, we acquired our newest breeding pair, a 2 year old male “Tatu” and almost 3 year old female “Taki,” who hatched in 2011 from the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Flordia.
Not always love at first sight…
Since their arrival, Adventure Aquarium’s Birds and Mammals team have kept Taki and Tatu isolated as much as possible for the rest of the colony, with the goal of allowing them time to get to know each other and encouraging them to become a breeding pair.
Michele Pagel, Adventure Aquarium’s Curator of Birds & Mammals said, “Right now they’re in the ‘getting to know you’ phase of their relationship, and becoming comfortable with each other. We anticipate that it will actually be quite a while before they become a breeding pair.” Over time, Taki and Tatu will gradually introduced to the rest of the Penguin Island colony, with biologists keeping close check of them to ensure that neither penguin get wandering eyes and start to pick up other mates!
Biologists will monitor Taki and Tatu’s progress and look for external signs that they’re connecting as a pair. “They will start preening each other to reinforce their bond, and even when introduced to the rest of the colony, they will only want to stay with each other and not do too much mingling with the other birds,” said Pagel “When we see them mating is when we’ll actually know if the AZA’s been successful creating a new pair.”
So what’s next for Taki and Tatu, besides a romance for the ages? “Both penguins are still really young, so producing a chick could take several years,” said Pagel “This pairing is about our future breeding program and contributing to the SSP. While it will be great to get a chick from them soon, Taki and Tatu are our next generation of chick producers here at Adventure Aquarium!”
Stay tuned to our blog for updates on Taki and Tatu, including when you can meet them on exhibit at Adventure Aquarium!