Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.
The First Gay Penguins?
Same sex bonds in Penguins in the wild were recorded as far back as 1911. It was quite some time before observations were made in captivity. For the most part male and female Penguins look alike and in the early days of husbandry there was no DNA testing and surgical sexing then was a risky procedure. Zookeepers would keep a group of Penguins together and let them pair up naturally. Some pairs would breed, others would not.
'Wendell' and 'Cass' male African black- footed Penguins Spheniscus demersus of the New York Aquarium paired up in 2002. However this got very little attention from the media.
In 1998 the first gay penguins to come to the attention of the Worlds press were 'Roy' and 'Silo', a pair of male Chinstrap Penguins Pygoscelis antarcticus held in New York City's Central Park Zoo. The pair were so closely bonded that the keepers gave them an egg to incubate which they successfully managed to hatch. The chick was given the name 'Tango'.
So successful was the 'Roy' and 'Silo' story that it resulted in a best selling children's book and even a stage play. The relationship however was not lifelong as a few years later one of the birds strayed and found himself a female partner.
Since the media attention surrounding Roy and Silo there have been reports of Gay Penguins from zoos all over the World. China, Australia, UK, Germany etc. It is almost as if zoos are competing to have their own same sex pair. Expect to see more stories in the press next year and in years to come.
King Penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus which have an entirely different method of nesting (they carry a single egg on their feet) have had their successes too. A male pairing resulted in a chick in Odense Zoo in 2012. Male King Penguins love to incubate and will steal an egg if ever they get the opportunity.
Who was the Father?
In the Humboldt Penguin Spheniscus humboldti breeding season of 1983 I watched birds start to pair up and take over the various nesting burrows. Every couple of days I would check the burrows to see if any eggs had been laid.
One particular burrow was of special interest because it had three eggs. Humboldt Penguins will usually lay one or two eggs with just one chick surviving. This then was a clutch which needed watching.
They were an excellent pair and two out of the three eggs hatched. It was only some months later that I learned that both of these birds were female and so a 'gay' pair. But they weren't really because somewhere along the way a male must have had a relationship with one or both females. There was no third bird involved in the rearing of the chicks.
Famous Gay Penguins
Wendell and Cass Male African Black- Footed Penguins Spheniscus demersus
Roy and Silo Male Chinstrap Penguins Pygoscelis antarcticus
Tango and Tanuzi Female Chinstrap Penguins Pygoscelis antarcticus
Harry and Pepper Male Magellanic penguins Spheniscus magellanicus
Sphen and Magic Male Gentoo Penguins Pygoscelis papua
And the list goes on. There are probably dozens of other such relationships which do not get reported to the press.