Detroit Zoo Welcomes King Penguin Chick

The new, yet-to-be-named king penguin chick hatched at the Detroit Zoo. // Courtesy of the Detroit Zoological Society

Meeting its mission of animal welfare and wildlife conservation, the Detroit Zoo today introduced a king penguin chick hatched at the Detroit Zoo on Aug. 13.

The chick’s story began nearly 300 miles away, at the Cincinnati Zoo – where its parents, 27-year-old Larry and 8-year-old Stacy, initially laid the egg.

“One of the tried-and-true ways to check fertility of an egg with a thick shell — like a king penguin egg — is to do something called ‘floating,’” says Jennifer Gainer, curator of birds at the Cincinnati Zoo. “Simple enough, we briefly float the egg in warm water to look for ripples in the water. We were excited to confirm fertility when the little bundle of joy was bouncing around like crazy.”

When the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan recommended the Detroit Zoo as a home for the future chick, representatives from both zoos started collaborating – carefully crafting a plan to incubate, transport, and transfer the king penguin chick egg to its new foster parents.

Awaiting the nestling at the Detroit Zoo was a pair of foster parents – a 21-year-old male and a 7-year-old female named Gertie. These king penguins blended and bonded during the July to September mating season but didn’t produce an egg of their own. Instead, to prepare the couple for parenthood, zookeepers provided the pair a “practice” egg to care for until the “real” egg from the Cincinnati Zoo arrived.

“It was a perfect situation,” says Jessica Jozwiak, bird supervisor at the Detroit Zoological Society. “We had a pair that was closely bonded but did not produce an egg this year, so we were able to give this egg to them.”

Since the egg hatched in August, Detroit Zoo experts said the king chick — who has yet to be named — is doing well and is being closely cared for by its foster parents. There was no word when the chick would join the other penguins for public views at the Polk Penguin Conservation Center.

“They are excellent, attentive parents,” Jozwiak says. “We don’t know the sex of the chick just yet, but we are all looking forward to watching it grow up. We are already picking out names we can give the chick once we know the sex.”

Representatives of both zoos said they are pleased their collaboration led to the hatching of a healthy and well-cared-for king penguin chick.

“This was a very time-sensitive situation that has resulted in the best-case scenario,” Gainer says. “We couldn’t have made this happen without the professionalism and extensive knowledge of both the Detroit and Cincinnati bird teams.”

The Detroit Zoological Society — a leader in humane education, wildlife conservation, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability — operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. One of Michigan’s largest paid family attractions, the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak hosts more than 1.3 million visitors annually.

Its 125 acres of naturalistic habitats are home to more than 2,000 animals representing 232 species. The Belle Isle Nature Center sits on a 5-acre site in Belle Isle State Park in Detroit.

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