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Endangered Species: African Penguin Born in Conservation Program at Indiana Zoo

Jan 26, 2016 06:26 PM EST
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A new bundle of joy just arrived at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, in Indiana, and it's a girl! While the endangered African penguin, Echo, was born a few weeks ago at the zoo, her gender was revealed just days ago.

That's because it was a mystery. Male and female penguins look identical, so the little black-and-white one's gender was discovered by a blood test and announced on Jan. 20, Penguin Awareness Day.

The 8-week-old penguin is the offspring of two other Fort Wayne Children's Zoo penguins, Flash and Chunk--both of whom were also born and raised at the zoo.

According to an official release, Flash and Chunk have a strong bond and exclusively raised Echo for the first several weeks of her life by feeding her regurgitated fish. After that, the zookeepers began hand-feeding Echo so that she would learn to accept fish from handlers in the future.

Echo is the first African penguin born at the zoo since 2012. Also, because the African penguin, or Spheniscus demersus, has been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered since 2010, Echo will serve as an ambassador to bring awareness to the species.

The African penguin is the only breeding penguin on the continent, residing primarily in southern Africa. Their population has been in a swift decline over the past six years as a result of commercial fisheries leading to depleted fish stocks, oil spills, and changes in prey populations, according to the IUCN. And the species has declined over 60 percent in the past 30 years. There is no sign that this trend will reverse, so conservation action is urgent.

Luckily, African penguins are known to return to the same breeding grounds every year and all breeding areas in South Africa are protected within a national park or nature reserve, according to ARKive.org.

The Fort Wayne Children's Zoo participates in the Penguin Species Survival Plan, a cooperative breeding program conducted by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums working to manage the populations of these endangered species within zoos.

"The zoo supports conservation of wild penguin populations as well," Dr. Joe Smith, director of animal programs at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, said in an official statement.  "We financially support [the South-African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds], an organization in South Africa that conserves coastal birds in their native habitat."

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