The news for endangered penguins

In the NYT Science Times on November 24th, “Psst, Buddy, That Cute Penguin Is So Into You: To preseve a species in Africa, zookeepers are running a kind of animal dating service” (in print), “To Save African Penguins, Humans Set Up a Dating Service” (on-line), by Christina Cook:

Greensboro, N.C. — When the African penguins Derek and Geirfugl were given their own room last spring, keepers at the Greensboro Science Center questioned whether they liked each other enough to take their relationship to the next level.

Derek was more interested in interacting with her human keepers than with other penguins. And when she did start to flirt with Geirfugl, leaning toward him and flicking her head back and forth, the male bird did not return the sentiment.

By mid-September, though, the relationship had taken an amorous turn. On a recent afternoon, they nestled beside each other inside a plastic crate — on a nest containing two eggs.

… In the wild, African penguins, which inhabit the coast of South Africa and Namibia, choose their partners from a pool of thousands and mate for life. In captivity, the limited size of the colonies — and the need to perpetuate a genetically diverse species — make human intervention necessary.

A baby penguin born to Derek, a female, and Geirfugl

The summary:

In the wild … African penguins face continued threats, mostly from people. The collection of guano for fertilizer has deprived them of the material they use to build burrows. Oil spills in 1994 and 2000 killed 30,000 birds despite rehabilitation efforts. And commercial overfishing has forced the birds to swim much farther for food.

“One hundred fifty years ago, there were millions in the wild,” said [Steve] Sarro, of the Smithsonian. “Now we’re down to 18,000 breeding pairs.”

Last spring, the zoo association launched a campaign focused on restoring endangered animals’ wild populations to healthy levels. Because of their vulnerability, African penguins were among the first four species chosen.

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