The Audubon Aquarium introduced us to its newest African penguin chick last week: Elmyr (pronounced Elmer). As you may know, African penguins are critically endangered. Because of this, a lot goes on when breeding these penguin chicks.
Darwin Long of the Audubon Aquarium explains that the aquarium is a member of the Association for Zoos and Aquariums and an active participant in the Species Survival Program, or SSP for short. The way SSP works is that zoos and aquariums across the country compare the animals they have in order to breed the pairs that are best suited to keep the species thriving. Sometimes that means matching up pairs that are across the U.S.. In order to do this, one of the pair will be flown to the other in order to mate.
Here in New Orleans, the Audubon has a couple of tools in their arsenal. One of them is a private upstairs 'suite'. The matched male and female will be taken off exhibit and allowed some one on one time in a room with a pool, pebble beach, nest boxes and a skylight. Long says the suite has about a 90% success rate.
So it’s not as easy as seeing which penguins decide to mate. A lot of hard work, sometimes in cooperation with aquariums across the country, goes into making sure the gene pool is wide and diverse, ensuring these penguins their best chance at survival.