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County Executive's Office

Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo Welcomes Two African Penguin Chicks

February 05, 2020
Kristin Moala, 608-283-1651
County Executive

Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo is proud to announce the birth of two new African penguin chicks. The two female chicks were born three days apart, on January 14 and January 17. The chicks will be named later this month.

“We are excited to welcome these two new African penguin chicks to the Henry Vilas Zoo family,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “We are proud of the long history Henry Vilas Zoo has with penguin conservation. Many thanks to our staff for taking care of these newest additions and keeping them healthy.”

Henry Vilas Zoo participates in a Species Survival Plan (SSP) developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to oversee the population management of select species and enhance conservation of species in the wild.

“Our animal care experts have been working with other AZA facilities to help conserve African penguin populations for decades,” said Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz. “Our current lead keeper, Gary Hartlage, has helped HVZ raise several chicks for the SSP over the past 10 years and has participated directly in penguin conservation efforts in South Africa. We couldn’t be more proud or fortunate to have such dedicated and talented animal care staff here at our zoo.”

The hatching season for African penguins coincides with the coldest time of the year here in Wisconsin. Newly hatched chicks are born with a soft, downy coat that offers little protection from the elements, which means the new chicks will remain inside until their public debut in April. They will grow their adult feathers for about 90 days and won’t learn to swim until their adult plumage is fully grown.

African penguins are one of the most endangered types of penguin. Their numbers have declined by 60 percent in the last 30 years due to over-fishing, human disturbance, climate change, and oil spills. Once numbering in the millions, recent counts estimate there are less than 17,000 breeding pairs left in the wild.

Henry Vilas Zoo partners with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to help reverse the decline of seabird populations. SANCCOB has helped rescue, rehabilitate, and release ill, injured, abandoned, and oiled seabirds. In 2019, Henry Vilas Zoo was able to raise $6,899 for SANCCOB.