'Elmer and Lima were exemplary in every aspect of egg care,' said Zoo Director Ted Fox.
Two male Humboldt penguins at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse are now the proud foster parents of an adorable fuzzy-haired chick. The penguins, Elmer and Lima, are the zoo's first-ever same-sex couple to adopt an egg during the breeding season and successfully incubate it until the chick hatched. According to a statement released on Friday, the pair is doing a "great job" feeding and caring for the fluffy brown chick which hatched on January 1. The New York zoo has for years been working to boost the dwindling population of Humboldt penguins in the wild as the species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
"We have some very exciting news! The first chick to be fostered by a pair of same-sex penguins at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo hatched on January 1! Foster parents, adult male Humboldt penguins Elmer and Lima, took turns incubating the egg and have been doing a wonderful job warming and feeding the chick since," the zoo announced on social media, sharing photographs of the baby penguin. According to The Washington Post, the chick weighed in at 226 grams (8 ounces) during its first health check earlier this month.
In the statement on its website, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo revealed that Elmer—who hatched at the zoo in 2016—and Lima—who hatched at the zoo three years later—were picked to test their fostering capabilities after the penguin team noticed the two males pair up this past fall for the current breeding season, build a nest and defend their territory. "The same-sex foster couple [is] a first for the zoo, which has relied on foster parents to incubate eggs in the past. The zoo has at least two breeding pairs of penguins with a history of inadvertently breaking their fertilized eggs. To give the eggs a better chance of hatching a chick, keepers may swap a dummy egg for the real one and give it to a more successful pair to incubate," the statement explained.
Zoo Director Ted Fox also stressed that not all penguin pairs are good at incubating eggs. "It takes practice," he said. "Some pairs, when given a dummy egg, will sit on the nest but leave the egg to the side and not incubate it correctly, or they'll fight for who is going to sit on it when. That's how we evaluate who will be good foster parents -- and Elmer and Lima were exemplary in every aspect of egg care."
Elmer and Lima's journey to parenthood began on December 23 when the penguin team determined that an egg laid by female penguin Poquita and her mate Vente had a viable embryo inside. Impressed by the nesting tendencies displayed by the same-sex couple, the team swapped the egg with a dummy egg and gave the real one to Elmer and Lima. The pair did not give them cause to regret this decision as Fox revealed the duo did a great job of taking turns incubating the egg until it hatched and have been brooding (warming) and feeding the chick ever since.
"At our first health check when the chick was five days old, it weighed 226 grams (8 ounces)," he said. "It continues to be brooded and cared for by both Elmer and Lima, who are doing a great job. And once they have experience doing this and continue to do it well, they will be considered to foster future eggs." Fox pointed to the many same-sex penguin pairs around the world who've had success fostering eggs as evidence that the idea of "family" is not species-specific and that in many cases, non-traditional families do a wonderful job of child-rearing. "Elmer and Lima's success at fostering is one more story that our zoo can share to help people of all ages and backgrounds relate to animals," he said.