By all accounts, Inca and Rayas are just like any other Humboldt penguin couple -- loyal, affectionate, and family oriented -- but until recently, the same-sex pair's literal love nest seemed bound to be empty.
Last winter, the two male birds housed at the Madrid Zoo's Faunia Park made headlines in Spain by entering into a rare, but not unheard of, 'gay' penguin relationship. So, when the breeding season approached and an amorous spirit spread among their peers, Inca and Rayas worked together to prepare for the arrival of an offspring, apparently unaware of the nuts and bolts of reproduction.
But as the other preening penguin couples around them began to lay eggs and share in the duties of incubation, keepers say Inca and Rayas seemed a bit sullen and confused by their empty nest:
"They love each other as if they were male and female, courting each other the same," one zoo staffer told a Spanish news outlet. "But what they want is what they lack: to raise a chick."
Faced with this rather heartbreaking scene, last month zookeepers hatched a plan to help Inca and Rayas have a hatchling of their own. As it turns out, one of the zoo's breeding females had laid two eggs this season, one of which would have likely been abandoned -- so the keepers decided to offer it to the hapless penguin pair.
Keepers say that at first Inca and Rayas looked a bit nervous to suddenly be with child, but it didn't take long for them to welcome their new arrival with open wings, doting upon the adopted egg like any good expecting parents would.
"Inca (who's assumed the more motherly role) has yet to leave the nest. This is his first egg and he doesn't want to drop it," says their keeper. "He doesn't move even while we offer the best fish in the world."
Zoo staff expect the egg, so happily adopted by Inca and Rayas, to hatch within a week -- bringing with it renewed hopes of survival for their threatened species, and a reminder that the fruits of love most often grow sweetest when given a chance to grow.