Earlier this summer, a king penguin egg was laid at the Calgary Zoo by 27 year-old king penguin Antoinette, who came to the Calgary Zoo from the BioDome in Montreal in hopes that she might finally breed in spite of her advanced age. Antoinette and her mate Louis, are considered “founders” to the North American King Penguin population because they have no relatives in the zoo population and have never hatched a successful chick. Having a chick with new genetics to the population is very significant to the King Penguin Species Survival Plan. We knew this egg contained a very special tiny king penguin chick inside….we just didn’t know HOW special.
To give the egg the best chance possible during its almost two-month incubation period, we placed it under an experienced penguin Mom – Diana. Diana had done a great job of raising Nero and Cleopatra in the last few years and accepted the invitation of egg nurturing responsibilities happily!
We expected the egg to hatch on August 11th. Over the long weekend, our animal care staff found pieces of the egg shell on the beach. A badly broken shell so many days before hatching is very bad news. The team sprang into action; the veterinary team patched the porous shell with a piece of shell from a Humboldt penguin egg from years before and the egg was placed in an electronic egg incubator in hopes of saving the hatchling’s life.
Our experienced team of zookeepers, curators, veterinary and security teams worked around the clock over the long weekend to keep the egg warm, moist, clean and ultimately safe.
Despite the egg shell wounds and a rough few days, the little chick tried to hatch by itself, piping through a small hole elsewhere in the egg. Seeing progress was slow, the Calgary Zoo team gently helped break a little more of the shell. They even played king penguin noises to give it some encouragement!
The king penguin chick fully hatched on Wednesday, August 7th. The little one was cleaned, given fluids and antibiotics to help fight infection of the umbilicus. Because “Mums know best”, we decided to trust the experience of our birds and returned the little chick to proud foster Mom, Diana. Since this new chick had such a difficult start to life, the zookeepers and veterinarians continue to treat and closely monitor its health and wellbeing. While the next few weeks will be extremely critical for our littlest king penguin, we remain hopeful.
It's breeding season in Penguin Plunge, so several other members of our king penguin colony have been moved out of the public facing habitat to give Diana and the chick the best chance to bond and feed during this critical time.
The team at the Calgary Zoo deeply love our animals and regularly go above and beyond when caring for them. We invite our supporters far and wide to join us in rooting for our littlest king penguin’s continued health and survival.
In the wild, king penguins are considered sensitive indicators of changes in marine systems serving as a key species for understanding the effects of climate change on the marine biome, especially throughout the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic areas. Currently listed as “vulnerable”, 70% of the world’s penguins are expected to disappear in less than 80 years.