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Same-Sex Penguin Couple Become Dads at New York Zoo

same-sex penguins baby zoo
A same-sex penguin couple at a zoo in New York have become dads. Credit: Harald Hoyer/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

A same-sex penguin couple recently became adoptive dads at a zoo in New York after the egg they were fostering hatched successfully.

The two Humboldt penguins Elmer and Lima, both male, hatched the egg on New Year’s day at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York.

The biological parents of the soon-to-be penguin baby are Poquita and Vente, a heterosexual penguin couple, but the zoo often gives eggs to more responsible foster parents after a viable chick is detected inside, because many penguin couples unintentionally break their eggs.

The biological parents are given a dummy egg to take care of, while the foster parents take care of the real thing.

Some couples are not particularly good at hatching eggs. Zoo employees have witnessed would-be parents break their eggs, incubate them incorrectly, or even fight over their parental roles.

Same-sex penguin couple proved to be great foster parents

But Elmer and Lima proved themselves to be great foster parents. According to the zoo’s press release, the same-sex penguin couple fiercely defended the test-egg they were given, and equally shared their parenting roles. This test proved that they would make great foster parents.

Penguin parents switch roles every few hours, with one parent going out to swim and feed while the other stays with the chick to keep it warm.

The chick, which is male, is healthy and is still under the care of his foster parents. It has not yet been named.

Both Elmer and Lima were born at the zoo, and they coupled up in Fall of 2021. Elmer was given his name because his egg was damaged accidentally by his parents, and it was repaired using Elmer’s glue.

Humboldt Penguins are medium-sized birds that live in South America, mainly in coastal areas of Peru.

Currently, the species is considered vulnerable, and there is no substantive plan in place to protect their population. There are an estimated 32,000 mature Humboldt penguins in the wild, and their numbers are dwindling.

The Rosamund Gifford Zoo is home to 28 Humboldt penguins.

Homosexuality not rare in animal kingdom

Homosexuality is not rare in the animal kingdom. Homosexuality in animals can range from sexual activity to pair bonding and courtship. Such same-sex activity is not limited to certain animal groups or geographical locations, but is recorded across species around the world.

Many scientists have noted that applying human conceptions of sexuality may not best describe animal sexual behavior, as many animals that engage in homosexual activity also go on to engage in heterosexual behaviors. However, there are multiple species in which homosexual couples mate for life and never engage in heterosexual activity, like penguins.

Homosexuality has long been recorded in penguin species in particular. The first account of homosexuality in penguins dates from 1911, and was considered “depraved” and too shocking to be released to the broader public at the time.

Scientists discussed the findings in secret correspondence which involved writing in a code using Greek letters to prevent others from learning of the discovery. The correspondence was unearthed and published in 2012.

There have been many recorded instances of same-sex penguin couples, both male and female, pairing up in zoos across the world, with many couples successfully hatching and fostering chicks.

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