Wichita Sedgwick County Zoo officials are showing off the latest addition to their flock, a pair of Humboldt penguin chicks.
The birds, named Chick 1 and Chick 2, were shown off this past week to the media in Wichita. They are the first Humboldt penguins to be born at the zoo.
“There is a lot of drama in our penguins,” said Joe Barkowski, the zoo’s curator of birds, after the camera-shy penguins refused to come out to meet reporters.
There are 14 adult penguins at the zoo’s Cessna Penguin Cove. Within a few weeks, there is a chance that two more chicks may hatch.
Sedgwick County Zoo officials have been planning for the new arrivals for two years, determining which adult pair was best suited for parenthood. The penguin program is part of the species survival plans monitored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“The SSPs give us guidance on genetic and demographic pairings and which are the best to breed,” Barkowski said.
One pair of the zoo’s penguins who mated this winter were placed low on the reproduction priority list.
“Their offspring wouldn’t be beneficial to the species’ survival,” Barkowski said.
As a result, their eggs were taken from them and replaced with fake eggs.
Another couple of penguins placed high in desirability, he said. One of their eggs was given to the first couple to raise.
“We were hedging our bets that they would each hatch one and put all their energy into one chick to increase the survivability of both chicks,” he said.
The chicks hatched within days of each other in late March. When Chick 1 hatched, the foster parents didn’t know what to do. Zoo staff stepped in and helped to keep the chick strong and active until the adults figured out their role as parents.
“Both pairs of penguins had never raised chicks before,” Barkowski said. “Mom and Dad just didn’t get it. They were protective. They incubated. They did everything right. They just were not giving the chick enough food.”
Chick 2 hatched soon after the first and ate with no issues, he said.