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Protecting Precious Penguins

21 April 2017

Penguins at Melbourne Zoo are expanding their role as ambassadors for their wild cousins. Now they are ‘Poster Penguins’ for the new community conservation campaign: ‘When Balloons Fly, Seabirds Die’.

The campaign was prompted by recent CSIRO research proving that swallowing bits of stray balloons is killing seabirds and asks for bubbles to replace balloons at outdoor events. The birds mistake the broken balloons and other plastic rubbish for food, even feeding these indigestible items to their chicks, which can starve with stomachs full of plastic.

World Penguin Day is on Tuesday, so the Zoo’s penguins and Wild Seas Keepers will be previewing that important international event by making the next few days into Melbourne’s Penguin Weekend!

Wild Seas Keepers have achieved a magnificent milestone this year, with help from cameras installed in the breeding boxes in time for the most recent breeding season. The team achieved an Australian ‘first’ by cross-fostering two chicks.

Wild Seas Manager Justin Valentine explains that previously Keepers checked breeding boxes every few days, because more frequent checks would disturb the nesting birds.

He says that ‘being able to monitor the activity in the breeding boxes 24/7 via the new cameras has provided us with much more information about breeding behaviour, while also allowing us to minimise the number of visual nest checks.  

‘In the last breeding season, the vision from the new nest box cameras showed us two chicks that were in trouble. We also saw a breeding pair that had been patiently sitting on eggs well past the due hatch date.

‘We removed those eggs and confirmed that they were infertile, and we replaced them with first one chick and then another, a few days later.

‘The patient parents did a fantastic job with the unrelated chicks, even though the first one we placed in their nest was significantly bigger than the second one.’

One of the cross-fostered chicks is a half-sister of the handraised Miss Wing, an amazing ambassador for her species as she is so relaxed and confident around humans.

Justin says that the next breeding season will begin next month, with hatchings generally beginning in September and running into January.