Posts Tagged ‘Jackass Penguin’

Mystic Penguins Get Their Feathers Wet

April 23, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that three African penguin chicks, all hatched in January of this year, took their first swim yesterday after 13 weeks of huddling under their parents for warmth and nurturing. The penguin parents take turns attending to their babies and are very protective.

 Mystic Aquarium’s newest additions took to the water on Tuesday.

Mystic Aquarium’s newest additions took to the water on Tuesday.

Once the penguins are 50 days old, they are removed from their nests and taught how to hand feed four times a day. By the end of the month, the aquarium’s new full grown penguins will be showing off their weatherproof dark grey feathers. Trainers at Mystic Aquarium form a unique bond with the young chicks in an effort to establish trust. Trainers also introduce the chicks to a small spray of water to get them ready for their first swim. All of the baby penguins will be given wing identification beads – one to signify birth order and another to represent gender.  Since 1997, Mystic Aquarium has participated in the African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP), where they have hatched 19 chicks as part of the program.

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World’s Oldest Penguin

March 31, 2013

The Penguin Post has learned that penguin fossils from 10 million to 12 million years ago have been unearthed in South Africa, the oldest fossil evidence of these cuddly, tuxedoed birds in Africa. The new discovery, detailed in the March 26 issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, could shed light on why the number of penguin species plummeted on Africa’s coastline from four species 5 million years ago to just one today —Spheniscus demersus, or the jackass penguin, known for their donkeylike calls. Daniel Thomas, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History, and colleague Daniel Ksepka of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center were studying rock sediments near a steel plant in Cape Town, South Africa, when they uncovered an assortment of fossils, including 17 pieces that turned out to be backbones, breastbones, legs and wings from ancient penguins.The bones suggested these ancient birds ranged from 1-to-3 feet tall (0.3 to 0.9 meters).  For comparison, Africa’s living jackass penguin, also called the black-footed penguin, stands at about 2-feet tall (0.6 meters) and weighs between 5.5 and 8.8 pounds (2.5 and 4 kilograms). The discovery pushes back the penguin fossil record in Africa by at least 5 million years. The discovery pushes back the penguin fossil record in Africa by at least 5 million years. Because the next oldest fossils from Africa date to 5 million years ago, it’s tricky to determine exactly why most penguin species disappeared from Africa. “It’s like seeing two frames of a movie,” Ksepka said in a statement. “We have a frame at five million years ago, and a frame at 10-12 million years ago, but there’s missing footage in between.” One possibility is that changing sea levels eliminated most of the penguins’ nesting sites. About 5 million years ago, sea levels were 296 feet (90 m) higher than today, and the low-lying South Africa became a patchwork of islands. Those islands provided beaches for several penguin species to create nests and rear their young while sheltering them from predators. Once the oceans fell, most of those beaches would become mainland. Africa’s remaining jackass penguins are also on the decline. Their numbers have plummeted by 80 percent, in part because humans are overfishing their staple foods, sardines and anchovies. African penguins are being bred in captivity; for instance, a successful breeding season at the New England Aquarium in 2010 ended with the birth of 11 new African penguin chicks. In addition, Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, along with South African and international partners, is working to establish breeding colonies of the African penguin closer to fish resources, to ensure successful chick-rearing, according to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

African Penguins

African Penguins

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.

Penguins Invade Florida

September 8, 2011

The fish, crabs and sharks at Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, Florida are making way this fall for the arrival of one of the most unusual creatures to ever grace this Sarasota aquatic institute: penguins. Standing about two feet tall, and sporting a coat resembling a black tuxedo, the warm-weather penguins will be the stars of the show and get their own island exhibit at Mote for about four months this fall. As told to the Penguin Post, two or three pairs of endangered flightless penguins, known as black-footed or African penguins, will waddle into Mote as the featured guests of the marine lab starting Nov. 1 and stay through the end of February. On loan from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., these penguins are expected to drive major local and tourist traffic to Mote’s facilities on City Island. “There’s just a magical quality about penguins,” says Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is promoting the event with Percy the Penguin mascot pins, among other things. “But what’s interesting is the way Mote plans to bring science into it.” Numbering in the millions off their native South Africa in 1930, the black-footed penguin population has dwindled to an estimated 120,000. Last year they were placed on the endangered species list, and the birds have more in common with Southwest Florida than one might suspect. “They face of lot of environmental threats in common with what we’re up against on the Gulf Coast,” says Nadine Slimak, Mote director of communications. “They’ve got oil spill-related issues, climate change, rising sea levels and they nest on land up against cliffs. There’s not a lot of places for them to go.” One characteristic of the black-footers has led to a less-than-dignified nickname; renowned for their ability to bray like donkeys, the penguins are sometimes known as jackass penguins. Given the birds’ preference for temperate waters averaging 65 degrees, Sarasota in the winter is as good a venue as any for them to chill out. With any luck, says Slimak, the penguins’ plight will encourage visitors to adopt their endangered relatives through sponsorships ranging from $30 to $300. A portion of the proceeds will benefit a conservation group, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. Mote has a number of activities planned for the exhibit, called Penguin Island. sleep-overs for children, a “breakfast with the penguins” program and a related documentary — called “City Slickers,” about humans and African penguins competing for suburban habitat — will show at Burns Court Cinema as part of the event. Slimak says Penguin Island is the first of an ongoing series of temporary exhibits designed to draw return visitors to Mote on a more regular basis. Convention official Haley expects the strategy to be a boon for the nonprofit organization. “Something new is always good,” Haley says. “And because it’s here on a limited basis, people are going to have to actually make plans to see it, because it’ll be gone before you know it.”

Who you calling Jackass?

African Penguin Added To Endangered Spieces Act

September 29, 2010

The Penguin Post has learned that the African Penguin commonly known as the Jackass Penguin is now protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, following the publication of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service final listing determination in today’s Federal Register. The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), a species native to Namibia and South Africa, has been listed officially as endangered.