Endangered Penguins Hatch at Zoo Vienna

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Since mid-April, Zoo Vienna Tiergarten Schönbrunn has welcomed eleven Northern Rockhopper Penguin chicks!

After about 33 days of incubation, the hatchlings were greeted by caring penguin parents that have since been providing all the food and warmth they need.

The species is currently classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Therefore, conservation efforts in zoos around the world are important for their survival.

“The Northern Rockhopper Penguin breeds on the island group around Tristan da Cunha, in the southern Atlantic, and is strongly endangered. The main causes of its threat are the overfishing and pollution of the seas, as well as climate change,” explains Animal Garden Director, Dagmar Schratter.

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3_PA_Felsenpinguin3Photo Credits: Daniel Zupanc

Currently, only 96 Northern Rockhopper Penguins live in European zoos. The largest colony, with 45 adults, can be found in Schönbrunn. The Tiergarten also runs the European Conservation Program (EEP) for this endangered and distinctive penguin. Since 2004, the Tiergarten has delivered 41 Rockhopper Penguins to other zoos.

Schratter continued, “Through our many years of experience in breeding, we would like to help build up colonies in other zoos…”

The Northern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi) is also known as “Moseley’s Rockhopper Penguin”, or “Moseley’s Penguin”.

More than 99% of them breed on Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Rockhopper Penguins have been considered to consist of two species: Northern and Southern Rockhopper (research published in 2006 demonstrated morphological, vocal, and genetic differences between the two populations).

In the wild, the Northern Rockhopper Penguin feeds on krill and other sea life such as crustaceans, squid, octopus and fish.

The species prefers to breed in colonies in a range of locations from sea level or on cliff sides, to sometimes inland. An interesting difference between the two subspecies is their mating ritual. They both use different songs and head ornaments in their mating signals. The reproductive isolation has led to not only physical difference but also behavioral. Adults feed their chicks lower trophic level prey than they themselves consume.

A study published in 2009 showed that the world population of the Northern Rockhopper had declined by 90% since the 1950s, possibly because of climate change, changes in marine ecosystems and overfishing for squid and octopus by humans. Other possible factors in the decline include: disturbance and pollution from ecotourism and fishing, egg harvesting, and predation and competition from sub Antarctic fur seals. Surveys show that the birds are also at risk of infection by goose barnacles. House mice (Mus musculus) have also been introduced into their environment by human sea expeditions, and the mice have proven to be invasive, consuming Northern Rockhopper eggs, as well as hunting their young.

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