Being the oldest African penguin in the world has its perks. In January, when ETwho lives at the Metro Richmond Zoo in Virginia, turned 43, took a dip in her private pool and ate a slice of capelin iced birthday cake (in fact, she ended up with the whole cake).
“We wanted it to be the happiest birthday ever,” explains Jessica Gring, one of the keeper of ET. “She is a very special penguin with some amazing genes and a great quality of life,” she adds.
However, living such a long life also has its drawbacks. African penguins are monogamous and typically have only one partner for life, but ETwho lived longer than the two previous companions, melvin It is Seldona, is on the third.
However, she was not single for long. In 2012, she met einstein, a penguin 30 years younger. Last year, keepers noticed that younger animals weren’t being nice to ETso they changed it, just like the einsteinwho is now 13 years old, to his own private enclosure.
“As the ET was getting older, some of the younger penguins were teasing her a bit, so we made a rest house for her to enjoy with einstein“, highlights Jim Andelin, the zoo director. “She can still see the penguin colony through the fence, but she does much better on the other side of the wire mesh”, he assures.
According to zoo staff, it is the African penguin females who choose their mates, and romances between May and December are nothing new. “She and the einstein they get along very well, despite being older than he is”, points out Jessica. “The ET developed a deep connection with Einstein”, adds the zoo director.
According to the handler, the affection is reciprocal, since ET It is “einstein are very attached to each other and enjoy spending a lot of quality time together”.
Spend more time swimming than einstein
ET arrived at the Virginia Zoo in 1995, aged 15. He was born at the Detroit Zoo on January 28, 1980 and later passed through the Colombo Zoo. The name dates from 1982, the same year the film was released. ET: The Extraterrestrial.
“We brought ten penguins [incluindo a ET] from the Colombo zoo when we opened in 1995, and since then 299 of these animals have been born here”, recalls Jim, pointing out that most of the offspring went to other zoos. “None of them had the lifetime of ET. She’s a little slower now, but she’s still enjoying a happy life,” adds the director.
According to the world zoo databases, ET is the oldest African penguin in captivity in North America as of 2018, the year the previous holder of the title, a penguin named opal, died aged 41 at a zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. “Our records show she’s the oldest,” says Jim.
According to the head of the zoo, African penguins that are in the wild live between 15 and 20 years, however those in zoos can last much longer. ET have a quiet and comfortable life with einstein at the Metro Richmond Zoo, he assures. He is in good health, despite losing some of his eyesight and taking medication for his arthritis.
Jessica also says that she has hatched about a dozen eggs since arriving at the zoo, but the last time she laid one was in 2016. ET lived to be 37 years old. “All of our penguins have their own personalities and ET is no exception. She loves playing with bubbles and mirrors and is very active. She spends more time swimming than einstein“, he reveals. The handlers installed a step inside the pool to make it easier for the animal to get into the water and have some fun.
“She still gets a little agitated when we pick her up for vet checks. ET there’s a lot of struggle inside her, which is a good thing to see in a penguin of this age”, points out the keeper.
Jessica and Jim believe there is much to admire about the world’s oldest African penguin, especially at a time when many of these wild-dwelling species are under threat from climate change, habitat destruction, oil spills and commercial fishing.
African penguins have been listed as endangered animals since 2010 and, according to the director, have declined in population by 95% over the past 100 years.
“We’re down to just about 40,000 in the wild,” he said, adding that there are about 900 African penguins living in US zoos. “Fortunately, with our breeding program here, we’ve had some luck with them.”
the golden years of ET they swim, take a nap and eat, but, explains the keeper, from time to time she also looks over the fence to watch the latest drama that is happening with the rest of the colony, which now has 42 penguins.
“We feed her as much as she wants to eat — on average, between four to ten herrings, trout and capelin. And when she wants some quiet time, she can go to the nest that is in her area”, he adds.
At the moment, plans are underway to build a larger enclosure for the penguins at the zoo and everyone hopes that ET be around to enjoy it. “We’re having fun with her while we have her. We don’t want to think about when she’s going to leave, so we’ve already started planning her 44th birthday party,” concludes Jessica.
Exclusive PÚBLICO/The Washington Post