June begins…

June 10, 2009 § 1 Comment


As June begins, the glorious summer weather has continued (haven’t we been lucky so far this year!) and the animals here at Edinburgh Zoo have been keeping themselves and the keepers as busy as ever! 

We now have 44 gentoo penguin chicks and 2 rockhopper chicks, and all are doing very well. As the chicks grow larger the keepers are beginning to offer them spratts (a medium sized fish) and even small whiting (a larger fish!). Eventually, they will all be offered whiting so that by the time they are ready to leave their parents they are already comfortable hand feeding from their keepers (for the most part anyway!) This of course, does not stop the ever-hungry chicks from continuing to beg their parents for regurgitated fish, and keeping up with the appetite of both parents and chicks is a never ending task for the keepers at this time of year!

 It’s always dinner time for the penguins at the zoo!

It’s always dinner time for the penguins at the zoo! 

As for the king penguins, they have not yet begun breeding. In our group of just 10 king penguins, only 2 are female. 1 of the 2 females is currently still moulting and so is not yet ready to begin breeding. All of the other king penguins however, have now finished their moults, and are starting to display behaviours indicating they are keen to get on with things! It does seem that this female is holding things up somewhat!

Most of the other king penguins have taken up residence in their preferred breeding location (at the very top of the penguin enclosure, next to the gate) and have been exhibiting courtship behaviours and pairing up. Look out for males following the females around in order to win their affections! In fact, the male with a yellow band (on his right flipper) has been keenly following the moulting female around, despite her current condition! They can often be seen standing to the side of the gentoo penguin nest site together. Perhaps they are picking up parenting tips!  This female is an impressive 17 years old and usually wears a red band (on her left flipper). Despite her age, she should still be capable of breeding. The other female in the king penguin group is an equally impressive 16 years old and wears a green band (on her left flipper). The male with a blue band (on his right flipper) has been following her closely and together they have chosen a suitable spot to begin their courtship behaviours.

Of the six remaining male king penguins, some have been so keen to breed, that despite the lack of females, they have been pairing up together as well. Same-sex pairings are not uncommon among penguins (or even other animalshomosexuality has been previously observed in 1,500 different species), and certainly provide the animals with companionship and an opportunity to display natural breeding behaviours. The BBC even reported last week that a same-sex pair of male Humboldt penguins in a German zoo have successfully raised a chick that was rejected by its parents!

During courtship, male penguins will perform the ‘ecstatic display’ by pointing their beaks skyward and raising their flippers. Interested females will stand opposite to the male and once he has finished his display both birds will shake their heads vigorously.

In the final stages of courtship the birds stand next to each other and stretch upwards shaking their heads together or bend down in a synchronous manner. Bill-clapping may also take place and the whole process is accompanied by synchronous calling.

King penguins do not nest when breeding, and so you will not see any of these penguins wasting their time collecting stones, twigs or leaves. Once an egg has been laid they rest it on their feet and then place their belly over it to incubate it.

At the very most we can only hope for 2 eggs to be laid this year, as females are limited to laying one egg per breeding season. We have our fingers crossed, but unfortunately this small number does make the chances of hatching a chick rather slim. We will keep you updated with how the king penguins are progressing right here.

 The King Penguins start to pair up

The King Penguins start to pair up

On the 3rd June, 2 female drill monkeys arrived at Edinburgh Zoo. They will eventually join our existing group of 2 males and 1 female drill monkey, and this is great news as the new additions will mean a more natural social grouping for our drills. Typically, drills live in large social groups of up to around 25 individuals. They are led by a dominant male, who will be obvious by his size and the bright colouration of his rump! Our current small, ‘male-heavy’ grouping is therefore not ideal, and we expect that the new females will be welcome additions to the group.

Drill monkeys are classified as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN red list and are actually the most threatened primate in Africa. Due to their small range, are severely threatened by habitat loss. Logging has displaced this species from the heart of their range, and continues to be a problem. Drills are also hunted for bush meat and can be persecuted in defence of crops. This will be a growing problem as cultivation of crops expands.

We are therefore keen to breed this species at Edinburgh Zoo, and we hope that a more natural social structure might encourage our Drill monkeys to begin breeding.

The new females have arrived from a zoo on the European continent and so are required to undergo a 6 month quarantine period. Although they could be mixed with the other monkeys straight away, this would mean that all 5 drill monkeys would then be required to fulfil the 6 month quarantine period. This could prove problematic as keepers are planning to move one of the males to another zoo in the near future. This is largely because the younger male has begun challenging the older, more dominant male of late. It would therefore be better for him to be moved to another collection, where he would be able to take the dominant breeding position in a group.

Therefore, the new arrivals are currently living separately to the rest of the drill monkey group. However they can be viewed in the monkey house, living just next door to the other drills! We will let you know when the keepers plan to mix the drill monkeys and will keep you up-to-date with their progress.

The dominant male provides a picture perfect pose! 

The dominant male provides a picture perfect pose!


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