Bronx, NY. WCS’s (Wildlife Conservation Society) Central Park Zoo is celebrating the arrival of New York City’s first royal baby – a king penguin chick.
The chick is the first king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) ever hatched in New York City. The landmark hatching is the result of the expertise and careful husbandry techniques practiced by the zoo’s keepers and curatorial staff.
“This hatching is a wonderful accomplishment for our staff. It will be a treat to watch this penguin mature,” said Craig Piper, WCS Director of City Zoos. “This was the first year that the king penguin chicks were old enough to potentially produce a fertile egg and we’re thrilled that conditions proved right for them to incubate, hatch, and care for the chick.”
The parents hatched the chick on exhibit in August. Afterward, all three were moved behind-the-scenes to carefully monitor the young penguin’s health and development. The family recently rejoined the rest of the penguin colony where zoo guests will be able to watch the chick transform from a gawky brownish fluff-ball to an elegant adult penguin.
The Central Park Zoo has a long, successful history with the care and husbandry of penguins. The Polar Circle exhibit is home to more than 60 penguins representing four species: gentoo, chinstrap, rockhopper, and king. The king penguins are the newest to the colony and were added to the group in 2010. The new addition brings the total number of king penguins at the zoo to seven. The sex of the new chick has yet to be determined.
The Polar Circle exhibit at the Central Park Zoo is built to replicate conditions penguins experience in the wild. Both air and water temperatures are maintained below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Special lighting simulates natural seasonal adjustments in day/night cycles. The change in sunrise and sunset throughout the year lets the penguins know when it is breeding season and triggers instinctual mating behaviors.
Careful management of environmental conditions and meticulous monitoring of behaviors are key elements vital to the success of the husbandry work. Observation of certain behaviors like territory selection can be an indicator that an egg is on the way.
Rather than building a nest, the king penguin parents incubate the egg on their feet, safely tucked under a flap of skin called a brood pouch to keep it warm. It is passed between the parents for the entire incubation period. The egg is incubated for 53 to 62 days, and the chick will stay with its parents for 10 to 13 months.
While in the care of its parents, the chick receives partially digested food that is regurgitated into its mouth. At about 8-10 months, it will start to molt its downy brown feathers that will be replaced by the iconic black, white, and yellow adult plumage.
King penguins are native to subantarctic islands north of Antarctica and the near-by Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas), and Tierra del Fuego. They are the second-largest penguin species, surpassed only by their close relative, the emperor penguin.
The four penguin species at the Central Park Zoo are not endangered, but they face serious environmental threats in the wild including climate change, overfishing, and the degradation of coastal ecosystems.
WCS scientists are looking at how climate change is affecting penguin populations and working around the globe to address these marine conservation problems that continue to plague wildlife. In Latin America, WCS works to safeguard several species of penguin in coastal Argentina and Chile, and has helped establish marine protected areas in both countries. WCS’s expansive Global Marine Program conducts conservation work and activities in 23 countries and all five oceans to help save marine life.