A group of penguins from Bristol Zoo has been donated to Bristol’s twinned city of Tbilisi in Georgia, which lost many of its zoo animals in a flash flood in 2015.
Nineteen young South African penguins are now settling into a newly refurbished penguin pool at Tbilisi Zoo after making the journey by charter plane.
They are the latest of around 80 animals to have been rehomed at the zoo from various European zoos. Tbilisi Zoo suffered significant animal losses in the flood of June 2015, which killed 19 people and left hundreds homeless. Out of the zoo's 1,155 animals, 281 died in the disaster.
Bristol Zoo’s South African penguins will now form a new breeding group at Tbilisi, to boost captive numbers for the species which has been categorised as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Tbilisi Zoo and Bristol Zoo are both members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and as such, work collaboratively to breed endangered animals in captivity. The penguin transfer was approved by the EAZA species coordinator for African penguins.
In addition, Bristol has been twinned with Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, since 1988, and the penguin arrival has been arranged to coincide with a visit to the city by a delegation from Bristol, including Bristol Tbilisi Association chairman Derek Pickup, Bristol business representatives and the Bristol master of the Guild of Guardians, as well as representatives from Bristol Zoo. The group will be meeting with the British Ambassador in Tbilisi next week at 5.00pm Georgian time on Tuesday 11th April to officially hand over the penguins.
Bristol Zoo’s director of conservation, Christoph Schwitzer, said: “Animals regularly move to new zoos when they are old enough to join new breeding groups, and we are very happy to be able to support Tbilisi Zoo by donating a group of penguins to establish a new breeding group in Georgia as part of the European breeding programme.”
After almost two years of intensive repair and restoration works, Tbilisi Zoo is now thriving and is home to new animals donated from zoos around the world.
Derek Pickup, chair of Tbilisi twinning association, said: “Since the disastrous flood at Tbilisi Zoo we have been working with Bristol Zoo to find ways in which we could help them by providing advice on developing a new Zoo in Tbilisi and by providing some new animals. It is fantastic that Bristol Zoo is donating these wonderful Penguins and encouraging other zoo's to follow our example and to donate animals. We feel like a modern day Noah and his ark”.
The population of African penguins has fallen a devastating 98 per cent in the last century, with less than 18,000 breeding pairs left in the wild in South Africa.
South African penguins typically grow around two feet tall and are also known as jackass penguins for their braying, donkey-like call.