In a nest, high up in the penguin condos in our Splash Zone exhibit, African blackfooted penguins, Umngane and Dassen have been keeping a secret; they were guarding an egg! Although our staff believed the egg to be viable, we were not entirely sure until the egg had "pipped". (That's when an egg is first cracked by a chick at hatching time, as it starts to make its way out into the world.)
On Saturday, January 8, the young chick finally emerged from the shell, much to the delight of us all, and perhaps to the surprise of first-time parents!
The new chick was first checked and weighed by staff veterinarian, Dr. Mike Murray and then returned to its proud parents for care and feeding. A second exam two days later revealed the chick had doubled in weight, (4.2 ounces) which is a great sign that the parents are feeding it regularly.
This is very early days for such a young chick with new parents. There's a natural high mortality rate for young birds, making our staff cautious and yet optimistic!
If all goes well, the chick will stay in the nest with its parents for around three weeks. After that time, it will try to leave the nest and at that point, for its own safety, it will be removed from the exhibit to be raised by staff.
This will also give us an excellent opportunity to acclimate the chick to people. This way, in the future, it will be able to act as an education animal, interacting with the public, either here or at another zoo or aquarium in the future.
Once the chick reaches about 80 days of age it will be old enough to try some short stays back on the exhibit. Our staff will want to ensure that it can swim, get in and out of the water safely and will be welcomed by the other members of the colony before it becomes a full-time resident.
At some point, a blood test should reveal if we have a girl or a boy. Unlike many song bird species, penguin gender cannot be differentiated by color or size and only a blood test will reveal this. The name, possibly, will follow the convention of our current colony, with birds named after a region in South Africa, their native home.
Though many of our penguin pairs have made nests before and sat on eggs (replicas), this is the first time the Aquarium has been permitted to raise penguin chicks. Our birds are part of Species Survival Plan for African blackfooted penguins. This pair are genetically important to the captive population and therefore we received permission for them to breed from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums who manages the plan.