Back before the Ikea monkey was in diapers, the Toronto Zoo’s “gay penguins” were the city’s viral animals of the moment.
But Buddy and Pedro weren’t gay - they stuck together because didn’t know any of the zoo’s other African penguins when they arrived, Tom Mason, curator of birds and invertibrates, said in a recent interview.
Both African penguins became fathers in December of 2012 and have been nesting with their partners in view of zoo visitors.
In 2011, Buddy and Pedro were stars because they seemed to share a same-sex bond. but the impression of a sexual attraction between the birds, Mason argued, was “just people anthropomorphizing” their behaviour.
“The social bonding, the ‘gay birds’ whatever, it’s not unusual in penguins,” he said.
“They would have paired off with females eventually, I have no doubt about that. That’s what happens in the wild.”
The zoo, Mason acknowledged, received “severe” criticism for separating Buddy and Pedro, which Mason said was done according to scientific methods for matching optimal pairs to breed the endangered species in North American zoos.
African penguins in the wild have declined to around 50,000 from 1.2 million a century ago, largely because of human activity such as overfishing, egg theft and oil spills.
The latest mating season at Toronto’s penguin colony, however, occured with “absolutely no trouble” and produced five chicks from four penguin pairs. A fifth pair is still sitting on two eggs due to hatch in mid-January.
“All possible pairs that could breed have bred,” Mason said.
Buddy and mate Farai’s chick hatched on Dec. 23.
They can sometimes be glimpsed directly to the right of the exhibit window, while Pedro and female partner Thandiwey, whose chick emerged on Dec. 16, are nesting directly across from there, said Mason, adding staff would soon remove the chicks and hand-rear them, “to get the birds used to feeding from human beings.”
By spring, they’ll be swimming with the rest of the group, he said.