Any story that involves two adorable penguins in love is bound to be an attention grabber. Add the words “gay” and “separation” to that equation and you have a lurid international saga.
After the Toronto Star broke the news about the Toronto Zoo’s plan to split a “gay” African penguin couple to mate them with females, the international media jumped on the story like bees to honey.
The story was not just about a zoo’s move to save the endangered penguin species, but also about a couple being “wretched out of each other’s embrace,” as the UK’s Daily Mail put it.
The zoo, however, never proclaimed the penguins, Buddy and Pedro, as “gay.”
“That term doesn’t really work in the zoology world,” zoo chair Joe Torzsok said.
Buddy and Pedro’s relationship, he said, is “complicated – but they are clearly in a loving relationship of some sort.”
Torsok added that, in fact, one of the penguins previously had a female mate.
Buddy and Pedro’s story was also picked by Time Magazine, CNN and the Huffington Post. The two penguins are also the subject of a sensational Taiwaneseanimation created by NMA TV.
We collectively need to step up conservation efforts for this particular species of penguin.
— Joe Torszok
The coverage, the zoo’s chair says, has helped raise awareness about the possible extinction of the African penguin species.
“Now the whole world is aware how [the African penguins’] population is dropping, and we collectively need to step up conservation efforts for this particular species of penguin,” Torszok said.
Torszok added that it’s no wonder the story is getting so much attention.
“At the most basic level, it is an incredibly cute story about some engaging and downright adorable animals,” he said, adding that he is not sure the story would have received the same reaction if it involved sloths instead of penguins.
But it’s also because there are human angles to the story, Torzsok said.
“Are they or aren’t they gay even though they haven’t actually tried to mate? Maybe it is just a pair of good buddies hanging out together?
“Are they in what we as humans know as love? Is the ‘love’ like brotherly love, or something else?” he asked, citing just a few of the questions that have the world debating.
For some, the story is about homophobia and an attempt to “convert” gays to heterosexuals. In Afghanistan, a woman named Amelia Kaitlyn created an online petition protesting the separation of Buddy and Pedro and has so far garnered about 1,000 signatures.
If in the long run Buddy and Pedro really don’t seem to be interested in females, that’s OK.
— Joe Torszok
“Separating Buddy and Pedro, who have bonded with each other in a loving relationship, is bad enough,” the petition reads. “…But to then force them to mate with females who they are not attracted to is absurd.”
Torszok said the penguins’ separation is only temporary.
“They are an endangered species with a dramatically declining population, but if in the long run Buddy and Pedro really don’t seem to be interested in females, that’s OK also,” he said.
“We won’t force them into doing something unnatural.”
Buddy and Pedro will be reunited in the spring.