Zoo welcomes 1st baby penguins in 3 years

By: 
CARY HINES, Assistant editor

Photo by Cary Hines
Education Curator Lauren Finnerty, left, and Penguin Team Lead Sarah Nicodemus hold Wall-E and Zero Oct. 12 at the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park. Wall-E and Zero are the first African black-footed penguins born at the zoo in three years.

Photo by Cary Hines
Wall-E, left, and Zero observe their exhibit from the spectator’s side Oct. 12 at the Wildlife World Zoo.

Meet Wall-E and Zero, the newest additions to Wildlife World Zoo’s waddle, or in laymen’s terms, a group of penguins on land, not to be confused with a group of penguins in the water, which is known as a raft.

They bring the West Valley zoo’s African black-footed penguin population to 17 members strong.

The brothers were born three days apart. Wall-E, named for the adorable robot in the Disney Pixar 2008 blockbuster “Wall-E,” was born July 23; and Zero, who gets his name from the invisible dog in Tim Burton’s 1993 animated oddity “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” made his debut July 26.

They are the first penguins to be born at the zoo in about three years, Penguin Team Lead Sarah Nicodemus said, explaining the eggs showed up shortly after the nests were renovated.

“I guess it worked,” she said.

The zoo has been home to the endangered species for decades. The penguins were originally housed near the train ride and then moved to their current exhibit on the east side when it was built about 10 years ago.

African black-footed penguins are found along the coasts of South Africa where temperatures reach 85-90 degrees in the summer.

They pair up and mate for life. They lay two eggs at a time and stagger them about a week apart, but only one typically survives.

“In the wild, the success rate is usually one out of the two,” Nicodemus said. “And that’s just because one has a head start and so it gets more of the nutrients, so when the second one comes, it’s kind of like a survival of the fittest thing.”

The babies are completely black when they’re born, and after their first molt, when they lose their down and are in the fledging phase, get gray bellies. At about a year to a year and a half old, they molt again and get their adult plumage — a white belly with gray speckles, a black band across the chest and down each leg, white on each side of the head and a black back. After that, they molt about once a year.

They grow to about 2 feet tall and can weigh up to 9 pounds. Wall-E and Zero are fully grown, which happens at about 1 month old.

“But at 2 weeks, they were really large,” Nicodemus said.

African black-footed penguins don’t have a specific breeding season, Nicodemus said.

“They kind of lay eggs whenever they want to,” she said. “However, there are two times of year that they’re more likely to lay eggs, and that’s in March and September.”

The eggs containing Wall-E and Zero were laid in late May.

The gestation period for an African black-footed penguin is about 40 days and adults can lay up to four eggs per year. Both parents take turns caring for the eggs, even after they hatch, sitting on the baby birds for the first 20-25 days to regulate their temperature. During that time, the zoo’s five-member penguin team adopts a mostly hands-off approach, letting the parents feed them regurgitated fish, and only weighing the birds to make sure they’re gaining the proper weight.

Once they’re about 30 days old, the team takes over their care and rotates their diet between six different types of fish — capelin, two different types of smelt, anchovies, herring and silversides — with anchovies and capelin being Wall-E and Zero’s favorites, Nicodemus said.

Because they’re fed, the zoo’s penguins only spend a couple of hours at most each day in the water.

“They really have no need to,” Nicodemus said. “In the wild, they really go into the water to fish for food, but because we feed them, they really only go into the water to bathe.”

The birds — yes birds, the question as to whether or not they’re birds is actually a common one, Nicodemus assured — may not be able to fly because their bones are solid, but they can mimic a donkey like nobody’s business.

“They do get their nickname for a reason,” Nicodemus said. “They are called the jackass penguin, because they have a very similar call to a donkey’s bray.”

And Wall-E and Zero are no exception.

Wall-E and Zero are on display with the rest of the waddle, including Eve who the zoo hopes will pair up with Wall-E. “Wall-E” fans will remember Eve was Wall-E’s love interest in the Oscar-winning animated adventure.

Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park is at 16501 W. Northern Ave. (southeast corner of Loop 303 and Northern Avenue). It’s open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 365 days a year. The aquarium is open till 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.wildlifeworld.com.

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