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Birds in Black (and White)

African penguin chick (photo: Thicius)Penguins are one of the newest superstars both in TV programmes and in the movies, so these birds are one of the most famous animals nowadays. But do you know all the important information about them? For example about their problems in nature? Do you know even one? Or do we only see their fame and shine...

 This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Let's start at the beginning with some information and interesting facts about penguins. The number of extant species of these flightless birds is debated, it varies between 17 and 20. About 12 species are kept in zoos all over the world.
Every penguin species lives on the Southern Hemisphere of Earth, but not all on Antarctica. Some species prefer the tropical climate, for example South-America, Australia or Africa.

These birds have tiny and fluffy feathers like hair. None of them can fly, but they use their wings to swim in the sea. Please, watch this video carefully:


African penguin (photo: Thicius)Cavalcade of names
I have no opportunity to introduce all penguins, so I have chosen one important species from the zoo life. This penguin is the one and only from Africa. (Perhaps this species was the model for the "Penguins of Madagascar" by DreamWorks Animation.)
The species is very popular in zoos because:
- it is easy to keep and breed
- it has a good breeding program which cooperates with African partners
- it is interesting being the only African species (zoo education, etc. )

African penguins are waiting for hering (photo: elajos)Many species in the Animal Kingdom have two or more common names and this is the reason why zoologists use scientific names. (You can find some funny/interesting names in my other article: LINK1 , LINK2 .) A dozen common names is unusual, but my chosen animal has nearly as many. Its most common name (that we use today) is: African penguin (Spheniscus demersus).

Here are the most known names:
Spectacled penguin
Black-footed penguin
Jackass penguin
African penguin
Cape penguin ("Cape" = Cape Town, Africa)

In the wild
In recentn recent decades, their number decreased significantly (to approximately one tenth of the previous population), but specialists have recognized the problems. The number of wild African penguins has been increasing in recent years. Apart from this, the IUCN classification of the species is currently Endangered (EN).

The main reasons for the dramatic reduction of their numbers are human activities:
-    Collection of eggs and guano
-    Oils spills
-    Industrial fishing

There are many projects to protect the African penguin throughout South Africa but among the most important is the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).

African penguin exhibition in Arnhem Zoo (photo: Thicius)In zoos
In recent years, more and more zoos all over the world hold and breed the African penguins successfully. According to the ZIMS database, 105 zoos keep this species. Currently the most popular penguin species in zoos is the Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) (130 zoos), which is the relative of the African penguin. According to data of March 2016, zoos keep approximately 2790 individuals of African penguins (Humboldt penguins: approx. 3265).
Now let's see briefly what we should pay attention to in order to successfully keep and breed this species in zoos. Young and adult African penguins (photo: elajos)As we can read above, it is relatively easy to keep these penguins, but of course they need special care too. The most important things:
-    High quality fish (plus added vitamins)
-    Breeding places (hollows, nests, etc.)
-    Seawater pool(s), if possible. (If not, we have to add salt to the feed. Please, do not add any chemicals to the water, if it is necessary, use UV filter technology.)
-    Protection against avian malaria (where this danger exists). The experience has shown that the medicine doesn’t affect fertility significantly.
-    Because of their natural habitat, this species does not tolerate extreme weather conditions. They also need an indoor exhibit, if it's necessary.
-    And last but not least, excellent keepers.

African penguin exhibition in Amsterdam Zoo (photo: Thicius)Each individual is different, no two are the same. The easiest way to distinguish them is to look at their unique spots on their abdomen. These spots are like your fingerprints.

You can choose between two different feeding technologies: feeding by hand or feeding in the water. Normally penguins aren’t choosy, but sometimes they don't eat fish (basically herring) that is too small or too large (the ideal size is between 9-13 cm), or fish facing the wrong way (right/left/back/forward)…

If suitable conditions are provided (both in the wild and in zoos) we can save this amazing species from extinction.

Penguin Parade
We can meet penguins directly in more and more zoos. These penguins leave their enclosures for a short time to take a walk on the visitor path once or twice a day. During this time you can listen to interesting lectures and you can ask keepers questions. This is the "Penguin Parade".
The following zoos (including but not limited to) have this programme: Calgary Zoo, Münster Zoo, Basel Zoo, Jászberény Zoo, Asahiyama Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Pittsburgh Zoo, etc.

Penguins are very friendly and curious birds, but keepers should take care during feeding time because of their sharp beaks. By the way, do you know how you can recognize penguin keepers? Their hands are always full of wounds.
And how can you recognize lion keepers? ...

And finally, don't forget that we celebrate penguins around the world twice a year:
- January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day
- April 25th is World Penguin Day

For more information, please visit these websites:

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