Endangered penguin born at Ripley's aquarium

Mar. 06, 2014 @ 11:21 PM

An African black-footed penguin was born at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in January and is now on display. African penguins are an endangered species whose population is estimated to have been reduced from one million to about 55,000 since 1930, due to over-fishing and pollution.

"It's really important to have them born at the aquarium," Senior Aviculturist Megan Klose said. "As part of the SSP (Species Survival Plan), we don't want to pull from the wild, so if we can breed penguins in aquariums, that allows us to continually keep a population in the aquarium without pulling from the wild. And if the number in the wild continues to go down, it's really important to have some that are raised in a way in which they could be released into the wild if needed."

The as-yet-unnamed penguin is a male, weighing 4.85 pounds, and is being monitored by the Ripley husbandry team. This is the second African black-footed penguin to be born at the aquarium. The first was born in May 2013, and the two penguins are cousins. A total of 35 penguins are now at the aquarium, 33 of them from outside zoos and aquariums.

According to Klose, the penguin may not remain at the aquarium its whole life. If there is a female that matches the Ripley's one well, it could be moved to another location for breeding.

A penguin can change a great deal soon after being born, Klose said.

"I think it's neat to see how different they are from the adults, and how quickly they become as big as the adults," she said.

"This guy is pretty brave. If you come right up to the glass, he will just look at you. At three months they're full grown, and he's already two months old, so he's already tall, but he's still pretty fluffy. By the end of this month, he will probably learn to swim."

Ripley's added African black-footed penguins as part of its $5 million Ripley's Penguin Playhouse in 2010. Burrowed nesting boxes and mud holes were built into the rocky habitat for nest building.

Mature birds will lay two eggs in the nest, which is protected from the sun and most predators. Both parents typically incubate the eggs and feed the chicks for two to four months, but at Ripley's the eggs were placed into an incubator to increase the odds of survival.

Only one of the two eggs remained fertile from this particular penguin's parents.

jold@themountainpress.com