Two male Humboldt penguins at a New York zoo who adopted an egg last year have become parents to a brand-new hatchling.
The same-sex foster couple, Elmer and Lima, are a first for the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, which is based in Syracuse, though a number of other zoos around the world have also had same-sex penguins successfully incubate eggs and raise chicks.
The Rosamond Gifford Zoo said on its website that it has had at least two breeding pairs of penguins accidentally break their fertilized eggs in the past. To improve the chances of hatching a chick, zookeepers may give an egg to a more successful pair.
Zoo Director Ted Fox said that not all penguin pairs are good at incubating eggs: “It takes practice.”
Elmer and Lima were given a dummy egg last year and “were exemplary in every aspect of egg care,” Fox said. That prompted zookeepers to give them an egg laid by another couple before Christmas.
The penguin dads took turns incubating the egg until it hatched on New Year’s Day. They’ve been warming and feeding the chick ever since.
“It continues to be brooded and cared for by both Elmer and Lima, who are doing a great job. And once they have experience doing this and continue to do it well, they will be considered to foster future eggs,” Fox said.
Many other institutions have had good experiences with same-sex penguin foster couples in recent years. These include Electra and Viola, two female gentoo penguins at the Oceanogràfic València aquarium in Spain; Skipper and Ping, a pair of male king penguins at the Berlin Zoo; and Eduardo and Rio, both male Magellanic penguins, at the San Francisco Zoo.
Fox said these examples show that the idea of “family” is not dependent on species and that many different kinds of families thrive at raising children.