February 20, 2019 Calgary Zoo

As the World Turns… in Penguin Plunge

Penguins are highly social creatures. Their dynamic social lives and courtship behaviours can be quite intricate. Because of this, the world of penguin relationships is not without its drama. Occasionally, a love triangle or scandal is bound to rock Penguin Plunge. The tumultuous past relationship of Grace and Solomon – two king penguins here at the zoo – is nothing short of a soap opera.

In 2014, Grace and Solomon were a bonded pair anticipating their first penguin chick. But, after struggling to hatch their egg, Solomon eventually left Grace for another penguin. Despite Grace’s protests – which came in the form of pecking the two whenever possible – Solomon and his new mate Diana soon welcomed the first king penguin chick ever hatched at the zoo, Nero.

To her credit, Grace carried herself with the dignity her name would have you expect. By the following year she had seemingly moved on and was spotted with an egg of her own! The father of the future chick, however, remained a mystery. Multiple penguins attempted to court Grace now that she was back on the market, but the zoo’s keepers couldn’t be sure who the successful suitor was. No male seemed to be in the picture now that the egg had arrived.

Undeterred, Grace embraced single-motherhood and dutifully incubated her egg – usually a responsibility shared between parents – for 55 days before it hatched. In the wild, it’s impossible to succeed as a single parent. Even if a penguin can last two months without food while incubating, it has no way of feeding the hatched chick without abandoning it. Staff hand fed Grace during this time, allowing her to stay with her egg around the clock.

Edward hatched on August 7, 2016, becoming just the second king penguin chick to arrive at the zoo. Grace received support from staff as well as other penguins in the colony who took turns watching Edward. The father is still unknown.

 

While it’s easy for us to anthropomorphize (give human characteristics or feelings to animals) and impose human emotion or even judgement onto Grace or Solomon (or any of our other penguins for that matter), it’s important to remember that animals are just that… animals. Our penguins aren’t scorned ex-lovers, struggling single moms or cheaters. They’re penguins doing what penguins do, and that’s a good thing. The Calgary Zoo strives to foster natural behaviours in courtship, breeding and chick-rearing. We participate in the Species Survival Plan aimed at ensuring healthy, genetically diverse populations of penguins in captivity. Some behaviour considered shocking in human relationships is normal amongst penguins and, as a result, what we want to see here at the zoo.

 

 

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