CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO’S NEW AFRICAN PENGUIN CHICK SURPASSES MILESTONE
January 16, 2017, Colorado Springs, CO – Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is celebrating the hatching of a healthy African penguin chick, which arrived on Dec. 13, 2016. Although the Zoo has had some previous hatchlings, they have not been viable chicks past 10 days.
Although several penguin eggs in recent years produced unsustainable chicks, the Zoo felt that it was still important to allow the penguins to do what comes naturally for them and saw the egg incubating experience as helpful to the adults in the flock.
Veterinarians and penguin experts are not sure why the offspring have been unsuccessful until now. However, several theories trace back to the Zoo’s aging hippo and penguin exhibit that was built in 1959, the same year that Hawaii and Alaska became states. The Zoo is currently working to address those concerns with a $10.4 million capital campaign called Making Waves, which will fund new state-of-the-art buildings for both hippos and penguins.
The Zoo is excited to be planning a new exhibit for the penguins that will address concerns about an outdated air filtration system that shared air between the hippos and penguins, as well as with a non-public maintenance workshop. Penguins have notoriously sensitive respiratory systems, which are even more sensitive in newly hatched chicks. The Zoo’s hippos were recently relocated to Springfield, MO while their new exhibit is built, and the maintenance shop has also moved. The Zoo thinks these changes may have helped improve the chick’s health.
When the chick hatched, it weighed approximately 51 grams, or just shy of 2 ounces, which is about the same as two slices of bread. Thanks to successful care by its first-time parents, it has already grown to about 2.5 pounds, or 40 ounces, in just over a month. That means the chick has grown by 20 times its initial hatch weight in approximately 35 days.
“Even at just over 30 days old, it’s already pretty feisty,” said Patty Wallace, lead Aquatics animal keeper. “That’s a good sign, since it’s a natural defense mechanism for chicks in the wild.”
The chick is being cared for by its parents, Murphy and Joe, in an off-exhibit area for now, so it is not currently viewable by the public. Once the chick molts for the first time and grows its adult feathers, it will be safe for it to be socialized with the rest of the flock in the main exhibit. Until the adult feathers come in, the chick doesn’t have waterproof protection, so it needs to be kept away from the exhibit’s pool for safety.
To date, the Zoo has raised $8.7 million of the total needed to build a modern new home for penguins and hippos. One new feature of the exhibit will be separate air filtration systems for the two featured species, which could help produce healthier penguin offspring in the future. Another feature will allow penguins the opportunity to go outside, which they are not able to do in the current exhibit.
“We’ve had amazing support from our donors thus far in the ‘Making Waves’ capital campaign, but now we need the community’s help in raising the remaining funds,” said Bob Chastain, president and CEO. “We hope that everyone in the community who loves hippos and penguins will rally to finish out this campaign.”
The chick was named “Penny” by its keepers. Although we will not know the gender of the chick until DNA testing is conducted, this unisex name serves as a nod to the Zoo’s founder, Spencer Penrose, and the fact that we consider the chick our “lucky Penny.”
The Zoo anticipates that the new penguin chick will be able to go on public exhibit sometime in late February or early March, after it’s safe for it to have access to the pool. After that, guests will have about 30 to 60 days to visit the penguins before they leave Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to make way for construction on the new exhibit.
“It’s bittersweet that our chick will have to leave so soon, but we’re so thankful for the time we were able to spend caring for it,” said Wallace.
African penguins are endangered in the wild, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s guests have been actively working to save them through contributions to the Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation (Q4C) program. Each guest contributes 75¢ to conservation every time they visit the Zoo. Over the past seven years, more than $75,000 has been donated from the Q4C fund to South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), an organization in Africa that does hands-on work to save penguins in the wild.
About Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society was founded in 1926. Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s ONLY mountain zoo, offers comprehensive education programs, exciting conservation efforts and truly fantastic animal experiences. It is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s hope that guests fall in love with animals and nature, and take action to protect them. Of the 230 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of just nine operating without tax support. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo depends on admissions, membership dues and donations for funding.