Penguin Chicks and Parents Winter In Florida

Here’s a Penguin Post look at some penguin progress at Tampa’s Lowery Park Zoo. Only once every two days, and for just a few minutes each time, the penguin chick is scooped from beneath its parents, to be weighed and photographed and given a look at the world outside its nest box. Zookeeper Christine Rogers reached in last Thursday, wearing gloves in anticipation of a biting father, and emerged with a gray bird not much bigger than her hand, with feathers so small, they looked like fuzz. Hatched Dec. 7, at a weight just under 2 ounces, the chick has fattened to more than a pound. It has begun to crawl, but cannot stand. It does not yet have a name, or a distinct personality. Even its sex, pending a blood test, is undetermined. Despite all the unknowns, the baby’s life plan was etched long before birth: To help prevent the extinction of the African penguin in as little as 15 years. The chick descended from a line of penguins rescued from a South African oil spill about a decade ago. Decimated by water pollution and commercial fishing, the species is barely hanging on. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits Lowry Park Zoo, has established a “Species Survival Plan” to keep track of African penguins in captivity and recommend ideal genetic pairings for strong offspring. Matchmaking is tricky. Penguins are monogamous, and over the past two years, the Lowry Park Zoo had to break up three established couples. But the arranged marriages worked. In 2011, the zoo welcomed its first-ever penguin chicks — three of them — growing the zoo’s group to 17. Taki, a girl hatched in May, loves the company of people. And Marini, a boy hatched in February, is a loner who recently made his first friend, a penguin bachelor named Titan. One day, next spring or summer, Taki and Marini will begin to eat lots of food, get bowling-ball round, and lose all feathers. For a while, they’ll appear to sport awkward buzz cuts. But before long, fancy feathers will grow in. Then, in a few months, each will join a betrothed in another zoo — Taki at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, and Marini, at the Georgia Aquarium. Plans have yet to be made for the new chick, whose only responsibility right now is to continue to grow under the dark warmth of parents.

Noa Leibovici, 2, of West Palm Beach checks out Taki, a female penguin born in May at Lowry Park Zoo, during a visit last week.

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