ET and Einstein are a May-December romance and are deeply connected to each other.
The love story of an African penguin couple has captivated the hearts of animal lovers around the world. At 43, she is the world’s oldest known African penguin and her mate is 13 years old. ET has lived a long and privileged life. As the oldest African penguin in the world, the 43-year-old celebrated her birthday last month with a dip in her own private pool and an entire cake made of capelin fish and ice. Her keepers wanted to make it the happiest birthday ever, and ET certainly has some incredible genes and a remarkable quality of life.
Unfortunately, African penguins are monogamous and typically have one partner for life. ET has had to outlive two of her mates, Melvin and Seldona, but eventually, she found her third love, Einstein, a much younger penguin. The Metro Richmond Zoo noticed that the other young penguins were being unkind to ET, so they moved her and Einstein to their own enclosure. There, ET is able to see the colony through the fence, but the mesh wire ensures she is safe from any more bullying. Female African penguins tend to choose their mates, and it appears that the May-December romance between ET and Einstein is a successful one. The two are very bonded and enjoy spending quality time together. It's obvious that affection goes both ways!
ET arrived at the Virginia Zoo in 1995, a mere 15 years old, according to Andelin. She was born in the Detroit Zoo on January 28, 1980 and was quickly named after the beloved movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” which was released in 1982. The zoo brought in 10 penguins from the Columbus Zoo when it opened in 1995, with ET included in the group. Of the 299 penguins that the zoo has since hatched none have lived as long as ET.
According to worldwide zoo database records, ET has been the longest-living African penguin in captivity in North America since 2018, when the previous record holder, a penguin named Opal, died at age 41 in an Omaha zoo. African penguins typically live for 15 to 20 years in the wild, but those in zoos can live much longer.
ET lives a quiet and comfortable life with her mate, Einstein, at the Metro Richmond Zoo. She’s in good health for her age, aside from her fading eyesight and her need for medication for arthritis. She laid 12 eggs during her time in the zoo and her daughter lived until age 37. The keepers at the zoo have installed a step inside ET’s pool to make it easier for her to get into the water and enjoy her favorite activity - swimming. She loves to play with bubbles and mirrors and is still feisty when they pick her up for her vet checkups.
ET's longevity is particularly impressive, considering the fact that many penguin species are under threat in the wild due to climate change, loss of habitat, oil spills and commercial fishing. African penguins have been listed as endangered since 2010 and their population has decreased by 95 percent in the last 100 years. Fortunately, with its breeding program, the Virginia Zoo has had some success with them. Plans are underway to build a larger penguin exhibit at the zoo and everyone hopes ET will be around to enjoy it. In the meantime, the zoo is already planning her 44th birthday party.