Toronto Zoo breeding program’s first hatching penguin put on display

It’s been a tough mating season for African penguins at the Toronto Zoo this year.

It was, however, a small victory for the African penguin breeding program when a chick was born on Jan. 28.

Born to parents Gozi and Puff, the chick’s birth has been nothing short of a challenge, specifically when the two penguins rejected the egg quite abruptly. Tom Mason, curator of birds at the zoo, wasn’t surprised when that happened.

“The female has a bad reputation for abandoning chicks, really,” he said. “It wasn’t moving and they warmed it up … some movement came back … it was exposed to the cold a little longer than we hoped for.”

The first three weeks after birth are very critical

— Tom Mason

The zoo faced yet another obstacle — bringing the chick back to full health after birth. The little penguin, whose sex is to be determined over the next few months as it grows into adulthood, was essentially brought back to life.

“After the egg was abandoned, heating it up making sure that it was strong enough the first couple of days was a bit of a challenge,” he said. “The first three weeks after birth are very critical.”

Out of the six penguin breeding pairs, four with established nests have actually laid eggs so far this mating season, which ends after April. Mason still calls the program a success despite the challenges, considering it has only been a year since the breeding program was launched.

The breeding program is a species survival program that includes 800 birds in North America.The birds are kept track of genetically so that their lineage is known. In addition, certain birds are bred together to avoid genetic inbreeding.

Mason said that out of the two mating seasons a year, the zoo only focuses on this one, because of the birds’ tendency to lay the eggs outside. As a result, they’re exposed to predatory animals like hawks, coyotes, foxes and raccoons, which are likely to attack.

Kathy Jury, the public relations coordinator at the zoo, said the penguin chick has been recently put on display during March Break, and is doing great after a rocky start.

A few more eggs are slated to hatch, joining the baby chick by the end of the season.