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Henry Vilas Zoo Welcomes New Penguin Chick in Celebration of Earth Day

April 19, 2013
Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive 608.267.8823 or cell, 608.843.8858
County Executive

Female First Chick Hatched at Zoo in 16 Years


Henry Vilas Zoo is celebrating Earth Day on Saturday with the introduction of Meredith the female African penguin chick to the public, the first penguin chick hatched at the zoo in 16 years, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.


Earth Day brings the plight of African penguins front and center.  African penguins are currently endangered due to oil spills and pollution, and from having to compete with commercial fisheries for food. 


“Earth Day reminds us of the amazing but fragile environment we live in, and the critical role we can all play in protecting it,” said Parisi.  “Our Henry Vilas Zoo is nationally recognized for its work to strengthen endangered species populations.  Meredith is a welcome addition, and another great example of how the zoo places animal conservation and education front and center in everything they do.”


Meredith will be introduced to the public and on exhibit for the first time on Saturday, April 20th at 11:00am.  Meredith has been busy painting since she hatched.  Her paintings will be on sale Saturday, with proceeds going to support wild African Penguin conservation.


Meredith hatched on January 18th after a 40-day incubation period.  Her sex was determined by sending eggshell pieces for DNA analysis. Meredith weighed 2 ounces (56 grams) at hatching, and now weighs over 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg). She has since lost her first fluffy feathers and now has dark, waterproof feathers. She looks much smaller and darker than the adult penguins.


“We are very proud to be part of ensuring the future populations of African Penguins through our breeding success at Henry Vilas Zoo,” said Ronda Schwetz, Zoo Director.  “Our staff, and in particular our penguin keeper Gary Hartlage, have been key in helping promote conservation awareness of this species through breeding efforts, excellent care of the birds, and fundraising and awareness for African penguin conservation programs.”


Meredith’s mom and dad are both first-time parents.  The African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) recommended breeding the parents to help ensure a genetically healthy population in AZA-accredited zoos across North America. 


Meredith’s parents incubated the egg, and shortly before hatching, the egg was fostered to a pair of experienced penguin parents to hatch and raise the chick. 


The chick was ‘parent’ raised until she was 25 days old, and then keeper raised so that she could be trained for veterinary exams and staff could ensure she developed normally.


Henry Vilas Zoo is 1 of only 53 AZA accredited institutions that exhibit African penguins.  Of the 819 penguins in the African Penguin SSP Breeding Program, only 111 pairs, or 27% of the African penguin population, are approved for breeding. 


The African Penguin SSP has recommended continuing to breed the chick’s parents for the overall health of the captive population, and the zoo hopes to see more chicks in the near future.


In addition to the penguin introduction at 11:00am, the zoo has a full schedule of Earth Day fun for the public to enjoy from 10am to 2pm:


  • Seedlings to Plant at home Courtesy of the Wisconsin DNR
  • MG&E Earth Day Fun Book Courtesy of MG&E
  • Face Painting (With Proceeds to Support Wild African Penguin Conservation)
  • Dane County Regional Arborist Group Kid's Climb
  • MG&E's Solar Energy Trailer
  • Wisconsin DNR Education About the Invasive, Emerald Ash  Borer
  • Education Animals to Visit With
  • Henry the Lion
  • Train and Carousel Rides for $1.00


Guests can visit the Henry Vilas Zoo animal family every day from 9:30am to 5pm.  The public can also keep up to date on everything new at the zoo at vilaszoo.orgor on the zoo’s Facebook page at


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