Archive for March, 2013

Penguin Chicks In Georiga

March 7, 2013

Everyone knows that African penguin chicks may be the most huggable bird in creation. Their portly profiles and soft juvenile feathers give them the look of over-sized Beanie Babies. And if they seem to cry out for cuddling, it is Jennifer Odell’s job to cuddle them, to get them accustomed to contact with people.

“It’s helpful for the bird to be less sensitive to human interactions, so that it’s relaxed during veterinary exams,” said Odell, associate curator of mammals and birds at the Georgia Aquarium, as she plopped a seven-pound living plush toy into her lap. Cuddling penguin chicks has its down side. The object of Odell’s attention, named B1 (the chicks don’t get real names until the staff can determine their sex), and its three creche-mates, B2, B3 and B4, were shedding their gray downy feathers, making Odell and her colleagues look like lint-flecked mill workers.

There was also the occasional deposit of penguin guano to avoid. (With a penguin in your lap, sometimes the guano is unavoidable.) Despite those drawbacks, Odell’s team, which has been tending to the new chicks around the clock, had the exhausted but happy look of new parents. Hatched in January, these penguin youngsters are the second crop of chicks born at the aquarium and are the result of a concerted effort to expand the aquarium’s brood of 45 African penguins. That work began in 2010, with the redesign of the penguin exhibit to closely mimic the birds’ natural habitat.

In particular, the lighting of the exhibit was crafted to match the natural light of South Africa. Technicians created a palette of illumination that shifts in color and intensity throughout the day and through the seasons, waxing and waning from pink to blue tones, and from bright to soft, to generate the same lighting cues that trigger breeding cycles in the wild. The effort has been successful, as aquarium personnel demonstrated recently, leading the AJC on an exclusive visit with the new babies.

African penguins come from the southwestern coast of the continent, from Namibia to South Africa, and from that area’s coastal islands, where the weather is comparable to that of the California coast. The species numbered 3 million in the early 1900s, but has dwindled to about 80,000 — mostly from loss of habitat and from diminishing food sources — and is listed as endangered.

The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), based near Cape Town, South Africa, works to rehabilitate abandoned and orphaned penguin chicks and rescues those that have become saturated with oil from nearby refineries. The Georgia Aquarium helps support that mission, with monetary and in-kind donations. Odell and animal training specialist Erin Morlang traveled to South Africa in November to help hand-feed and raise a creche of 130 chicks at SANCCOB. Because they already were skilled at feeding seafood smoothies to infant penguins, their help was particularly valuable.

While they were in South Africa the two aquarium workers also helped release six penguins back into the wild. No penguins from Atlanta’s collection will go back to the waters off South Africa — they could accidentally introduce a Western microbe that would be dangerous to the population there. But the genetic diversity of Atlanta’s new generation of penguins will be valuable to the 600 or so penguins currently in human care, according to William Hurley, the aquarium’s senior vice president of zoological operations. Currently these youngsters are spectacularly uncoordinated. They spend much of their time flat on their beaks, after tripping over their own feet.

They also have yet to demonstrate their natural grace underwater. Soon their permanent feathers will grow in, giving them the distinct black-and-white tuxedo look of other adults. They should grow to about two feet in height and about 7 to 11 pounds in weight. “Once they are fully fledged, they will float like corks,” said Dennis Christen, director of animal training, “but they can’t swim until then.”

The penguin chicks will remain off-exhibit until they mature and are ready to join the adults in the collection, said Hurley.

Caring for penguin chicks at the Georgia Aquarium is the local part of an international effort by the aquarium to help conservation efforts in South Africa, where the Georgia folks support an initiative to rescue orphaned, abandoned and oiled penguins.

Caring for penguin chicks at the Georgia Aquarium is the local part of an international effort by the aquarium to help conservation efforts in South Africa, where the Georgia folks support an initiative to rescue orphaned, abandoned and oiled penguins.

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Little Penguins Getting Little

March 7, 2013

The Penguin Post has learned that a group of islanders have come together to express its concern about the survival of the Little Penguin colonies on Kangaroo Island in south central Australia. Representatives of Save the Little Penguins Committee, have written to Department of Environment Water and Natural Resources chief executive Allan Holmes, asking if DEWNR “has a policy to reverse the decline of Little Penguins and then a policy to assist in their preservation and growth”. “It is our belief that if some form of human intervention is not actioned quickly then very soon the current populations of Little Penguins nesting in South Australia will disappear forever.”

Little Blue Penguins of South Australia

Little Blue Penguins of South Australia

Yellow Eyed Penguin Chicks Released In NZ

March 6, 2013

The Penguin Post has learned that eight orphaned yellow-eyed penguin chicks have been released back into the wild on the shores of New Zealand. They were rescued from Dunedin’s on the New Zealand’s south eastern coast after their parents were killed by what’s thought to be a bio-toxin.  According to local reports the chicks had their hesitant experience of entering the ocean.  It’s the first time the chicks have ever set a flipper in the ocean. “They know how to swim, but it’s the sheer size of the sea is a bit scary and there are a lot of waves out there,” says Penguin Place manager Lisa King.  But the importance of the yellow-eyed penguin chicks taking on the deep blue is literally a matter of life or death.

“They’ve got to learn how to fish, and that’s their biggest challenge in the next few days,” says Ms King. “And if they don’t work it out quick enough, they’ll come ashore and starve to death.” But they get there in the end, despite a good thrashing from the incoming swell. “This is a second chance for them – their parents have died,” says Ms King. “If they had been left where they were they would have died.”   They’ve come a long way thanks to the Department of Conservation. The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and the team at Penguin Place admit the endangered species won’t be tamed. “They know what to do when you hold them to feed them, and then they’ll bite you on the way when they leave,” says Ms King.

They were rescued more than 2 pounds underweight after the unexplained deaths of 60 adult yellow-eyed penguins on Dunedin’s coast. Further toxin testing is continuing after initial testing on the dead adult penguins hasn’t give any results. But DOC still suspect the cause is a bio-toxin. “It’s a very long haul for them,” says Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray. “This is the first time they’ve been out to sea. They’ve got to learn to feed, to swim, to compete with predators in the sea. Basically they’ve been thrown in the deep end.” It is a deep end it’s hoped the chicks will return from, and go on to increase the yellow-eyed penguin population.YellowEyedPenguinChick