Saginaw, MI (WJRT) — It’s a process that took five years, lots of research and training, and even more patience. Now, the Saginaw Children’s Zoo is celebrating the healthy arrival of a baby girl.
The African penguin chick hatched on Jan. 20 which is International Penguin Day.
“Once we saw that it had hatched, and it was healthy, and mom and dad were taking care of it, there were tears shed, we were really excited,” said Lead Keeper Mia Banaszek.
Banaszek previously traveled to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to learn about penguin husbandry and other related topics. Another keeper traveled abroad to learn about the bird and others.
“It’s our first ever penguin hatch here at the zoo and she’s grabbing a lot of attention already,” Banaszek said.
When she hatched the penguin fit in the hands of the keepers, now she’s about half the size of an adult penguin. “She’s really fuzzy and soft right now, she has a little bit of white on her belly,” Banaszek said.
Banaszek said they’ve had some disappointment over the last few years as they worked to find the right mates, and then had some eggs that didn’t hatch.
But finally this breeding season mom “Petey” and dad “Robben” created a healthy, viable egg.
Zoo staff artificially incubated it for the necessary 36 to 41 day process. “And then when it starts to pip or hatch, we kind of do a switch with the dummy eggs we actually placed with the parents, so they think they’re sitting on the egg the whole time, but really we’re making sure it’s developing properly,” Banaszek said.
She took three days to hatch and her parents immediately began to care for her.
Now the chick is learning from her keepers. “We’re giving her her privacy, only zoo staff can really come in and see her during feedings. Right now she’s learning to eat from the keepers and getting used to humans,” Banaszek said.
Her arrival is a big deal locally and globally. The African penguins are on the endangered species list.
“Their numbers are dropping and despite conservation efforts, they’re just, they’re not doing that great so it’s really important we have a genetically viable and healthy captive population,” Banaszek said.
Zoo staff explained the problems the species faces in this blog post:
“African penguins, also known as black-footed penguins, are native to the coasts of South Africa. This endangered species faces challenges of survival in its habitat including harvesting the guano that makes up their nests for fertilizer and overfishing their native hunting grounds. In 2014, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) worked with South African government agencies and conservation groups to identify actions to take to under the Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) initiative. Starting in 2016, artificial nests and data collecting systems were created and implemented to help the species. The Saginaw Children’s Zoo actively participates in the African penguin Species Survival Plan breeding program to help Save Animals from Extinction.”
Weather permitting community members will be able to see the baby penguin on the zoo’s opening day, which is set for April 20. Zoo members will get to see her a day earlier.
There will be some type of naming contest, but details haven’t been worked out yet.