Meet the gay penguin couple at Racine Zoo
By Alex Rodriguez
ROOT, Wis. (The Times Journal) – Stanley and Stevie are literally two birds of a feather.
They do everything together. From nesting to preening, these two African penguins live a life of love. Stanley and Stevie are two male penguins at the Racine Zoo, and they also happen to be the zoo’s only gay couple.
This Pride Month, celebrated every June, the zoo is looking to make Stanley and Stevie the stars of the show.
Stanley and Stevie came to the zoo about a year apart, Stevie in late 2015 and Stanley in late 2016, according to Aszya Summers, curator of animal care and conservation education for the zoo.
The flightless pair didn’t really begin to bond and mate until about a year of acquaintance.
Penguins usually mate for life. Once penguins bond and start mating, they do everything together: like swimming, preening each other’s feathers, and nesting.
In the wild, some same-sex penguin pairs have been seen feeding on eggs that were abandoned or removed from their original parents.
While penguins are also colonial animals that live in large groups, some penguins are not interested in parenthood. In the case of Stanley and Stevie, it’s a bit of both. Stanley shows all the signs of wanting a newborn such as building a nest, incubating pool toys and dummy eggs provided to him, while Stevie destroys and eats the nests and throws the toys away.
“Stevie is kind of a medium-sized penguin and Stanley is on a diet. He’ll eat pretty much anything we give him,” Summers said. “Even though he’s a penguin, he’s also kind of a bear.”
Gay penguins in captivity are not a new phenomenon.
One of the earliest reported and well-known cases was that of Roy and Silo, a gay penguin couple at New York’s Central Park Zoo who began mating in 1998.
According to research from Tufts University in Massachusetts, after “successfully” incubating a rock and then a dummy egg, zookeepers decided to give the couple a real fertilized egg. Roy and Silo hatched a baby, a female penguin named Tango.
Tango then grew to form a partnership with another female penguin named Tanuzi.
Homosexual behavior has been documented in over 450 different species of animals worldwide and is found in all major geographic regions and all major groups of animals, as documented by Canadian biologist Bruce Bagemihl in his book from 1999, “Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity”.
As the species generally mates for life in the wild, penguins are among the most reported animals to be paired in captivity – homosexual or not.
In some species, notably giraffes and bonobos, homosexual behavior is more common than heterosexual.
The zoo is currently holding a clothing sale, featuring portraits of Stanley and Stevie. The zoo is also planning a Staff Enrichment Pride Night, where staff will paint rainbows around the zoo for the animals, guests and staff.
“We have a very diverse staff at Racine Zoo and we wanted to make sure we celebrate that. Not that there’s been any negativity around anything in the past, just this year we decided to put more emphasis than we have historically,” Summers said.
African penguins are currently an endangered species found on the west coast of South Africa near Cape Town.
The zoo is currently part of the Species Survival Plan, or SSP, for African penguins, which means the zoo is working to ensure their population of 13 penguins is well supported. This work contributes to conservation and could potentially integrate with reintroduction into the wild in the future, although the latter is not currently planned for African penguins.
Threats in the wild to penguins include overfishing, climate change, oil spills and even the harvesting of seabird guano, which is useful fertilizer for South Africa’s growing populations but leaves them penguins without nesting material. Many zoos have raised money to build artificial nesting boxes in the wild so penguins have places to raise their eggs.
Penguins, usually associated with icy climates, are actually happy with the climate of Wisconsin because African penguins evolved for warmer climates like southern Africa, unlike emperor penguins in Antarctica.
“There are so many things I can tell you about the zoo. It’s my favorite place in the universe,” Summers said, “I’ve worked in many zoos across the country as well as many of our staff; we are an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) zoo in a small community. We have big zoos in the north and south, and I’ve worked in places that have a lot more resources, but I chose to stay here in Racine because it’s a community zoo.
“It’s a place where, instead of seeing tourists all day, I see the same kids and watch them grow up. I get invited to high school graduations. Preschoolers turn into summer campers. summer, then they volunteer and we hire the volunteers. People really grow up with and love the zoo, and our staff are amazing and we have such a diverse staff here and a place that makes us feel safe and celebrated. That’s why we’re so excited to make this Pride month, although we’re an animal organization and a conservation organization, it all comes down to the people and the people who support them.
Stanley and Stevie are currently being kept indoors with the rest of the birds that live at the zoo, in an effort to prevent the flocks from becoming infected with bird flu which is found in wild birds such as seagulls and ducks that may end up swimming. in the outdoor enclosures. Millions of bird deaths, many of which are exterminated flocks once there is a confirmed case, have resulted.
According to Summers, the wild bird migration period should soon end, so hopefully all of the zoo’s captive birds, including Stanley and Stevie, can be outside welcoming guests before the end of the month.
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