Penguins foster struggling chick at Bristol Zoo Gardens

A struggling baby penguin at Bristol Zoo Gardens has been saved thanks to a bright idea from its keepers and a willing pair of foster parents.

The African penguin hatched only two days behind its nest-mate, but keepers noticed the chicks’ parents were only caring for its sibling. The younger chick was failing to put on any weight and keepers feared for its survival.

So they carefully put the chick, which weighed just 69 gms, into an empty penguin egg shell and then placed it with two foster parents, replacing their own infertile egg. 

The following morning when keepers weighed the tiny chick they were amazed. Its weight had increased to more than 100 gms. 

By the third day with the foster parents, the plucky little fighter was tipping the scales at more than 160 gms.

Richard Switzer, curator of birds at Bristol Zoo Gardens, said: “It’s early days, but for a chick that was really struggling to become really strong and back on track is great. 

“We were so fortunate to be able to give a pair of foster parents the opportunity to do the parental work, instead of us needing to hand-rear.”

He said the foster parents began looking after the chick and feeding it immediately.

Richard said they were still watching the chick’s development closely but the signs were all very positive.

The little chick is one of a colony of 52 African penguins at Bristol Zoo, including ten youngsters that have been hatched in the past 4 months.

Every one of them is important because in the wild their numbers have suffered a dramatic fall.

In 1900 there were an estimated two million African penguins but today there are fewer than 18,000 – a drop of more than 97 per cent.

The situation has led to African penguins being classified as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

A number of factors have contributed to the rapid decline in their numbers. Over-fishing has reduced their food supplies and oil pollution is a major threat.

The Zoo is working with a local conservation and rehabilitation centre in South Africa which rescues orphaned penguin chicks, nurses them back to health and then reintroduces them back in to the wild.


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