Zoo Plans to Split Up Same-Sex Penguin Pair

© Jon Mountjoy

We here at Treehugger aren't ones to pry into the private lives of our animal counterparts, but sometimes their tales of romance are just too special to pass up. Earlier this year, wildlife experts at the Toronto Zoo welcomed two new male African penguins to their popular exhibit, with the hope that the addition of a couple of spirited young bachelors would be a boon to the endangered species. And, as it turned out, love was in the air before too long, but not quite how anyone had in mind. Instead of setting their sights on the zoo's eager feathered females, penguins Pedro and Buddy formed what their handlers describe as a rare, same-sex 'pair-bonding'. Sadly, their romance is destined to be short-lived: the zoo plans on splitting them up as a way of getting them to make some much needed penguin babies.

Pedro and Buddy were among a group of twelve captive-bred African penguins imported from across the U.S. to the Toronto Zoo in May, having been brought up together at a zoo in Ohio. Almost immediately, zookeepers noticed the two birds exhibiting tell-tale signs of a bonded male-male partnership, preferring one another's company over that of a female.

“It’s a complicated issue, but they seem to be in a loving relationship of some sort,’’ says zoo chairman Joe Torzsok, to the Toronto Star.

During the day all 12 penguins generally swim and frolic together in their enclosure, which includes a massive pool with underwater windows for the public to view.

But at night Buddy and Pedro pair off together. Every night.

“They do courtship and mating behaviours that females and males would do,’’ one keeper said in an interview.

Those behaviours include making a “braying’’ sound, almost like a donkey, as a mating call. They defend their territory, preen each other, and are constantly standing alone together. In fact when the Star visited the exhibit this week Buddy emerged from the water, followed a few moments later by Pedro. The two huddled together for quite some time.

Such same-sex bonds really aren't that uncommon in the Animal Kingdom -- even among penguins. But whereas most relationships would be allowed to flourish, Pedro and Buddy's is evidently fated for a sad end. Zoo officials say that the pair will soon be separated in hopes that they'll bond with females instead. Given the endangered status of African penguins in the wild, which have declined 95 percent in just over a century, wildlife experts would like to see Pedro's and Buddy's genes passed on to a new generation.

Tags: Birds | Endangered Species