Endangered Penguins Bond in San Francisco
Sinclair the African Penguin moved into a penguin colony at the California Academy of Sciences in December. She was born at the New England Aquarium in 1991, but moved to California from Oklahoma. Bonding between Sinclair and a male African penguin has already taken place, and they may produce offspring. Below is an interview with the Academy about the African penguins.
What prompted Sinclair’s move from the Tulsa Zoo to your facility in San Francisco?
Sinclair’s transfer was recommended by the African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) following its 2011 meeting. Zoos and aquariums around the country participate in the African Penguin SSP in an effort to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse captive population.
How did you choose potential candidates for Sinclair?
Sinclair was recommended by the SSP to pair up with Agulhas, a male already in the Academy’s colony.
How do you know the bond formed between Sinclair and new male is likely to be permanent?
When Sinclair arrived at the Academy in November, she and Agulhas spent a month alone together in a cozy space affectionately known as the “love shack,” where they began to show initial signs of forming a bond, including bowing and shaking their heads to one another. Now on exhibit with the rest of the colony, Agulhas is following Sinclair around routinely, but the pair are not yet fully bonded, and we may decide to give them some more alone time together to encourage the process. If their bond does solidify it is highly likely, given the highly monogamous nature of this species, that it will remain permanent.
Has she shown interest in other penguins?
Do the males help with rearing the chicks?
Males and females have an equal role.
How many other African Penguins are living in the same colony with Sinclair?
We currently have 16 penguins in our colony, including Sinclair. Within the next few months, the Academy will be receiving an additional two females, again per an SSP recommendation, bringing our colony up to 18 penguins.
Is it likely she will spend the rest of her life in your San Francisco facility?
Yes, she should spend the rest of her life here at the Academy.
What kind of enrichment activities are provided for the penguins?
We are constantly changing the enrichment we provide for our colony, but examples include different sorts of materials they can collect for nesting material, toys, blowing bubbles, playing different music, or adding new animals to the exhibit like sea stars, urchins and abalone. However, because they are such social animals, the most meaningful enrichment probably comes from their changing interactions with each other and the people who care for them. We also provide environmental enrichment by, for example, fluctuating the temperature and photoperiod throughout the year to mimic changes they’d be experiencing in the wild.
If your penguin colony grows, might some of them be placed in other facilities?
Yes, it is highly likely that some of the offspring produced here at the Academy will be transferred to other facilities under the auspices of the SSP in the future.
Are African Penguins endangered?
Yes, in 2010 they were listed as Endangered by both US Fish & Wildlife as well as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
What is happening to those currently living in the wild, in terms of their population stability?
As reflected by their Endangered listing, their status in the wild is very unstable. Their numbers in the wild have declined by more than 90 percent from what they were at the turn of the last century and this decline has been particularly accelerated within the past few decades. There is a real possibility they will go extinct in the wild within our lifetime.
Image Credit: California Academy of Sciences