Friday, November 11, 2011

Penguins & Paparazzi

I've always had a fascination for penguins. Not only are these birds durable, surviving the harshest of conditions in the southern hemisphere, but they're entertaining and cute.

While admiring an assortment of plants and animals in a lovely park in Mannheim, Germany, I came across a small enclosure containing penguins. I was fascinated and of course, took several photos. I believe they were African penguins also called black footed penguins, cute little guys who normally live off the southern African waters. As I watched them, I thought to myself that I could stare at these entertaining, waddling birds for hours.

I was part way around the world, observing these penguins, yet, a controversy about the same species was brewing back home. News reports surfaced about a "couple" of penguins at the Metro Toronto Zoo. Nothing unusual about that except that the penguins, Pedro and Buddy, both males, were described as inseparable and as having "pair bonded".

Apparently, Buddy and Pedro became friends as part of a male group at their former zoo in Toledo, Ohio and have remained close after being moved to the Toronto zoo. Since they have particularly good genes and because the species is expected to die out by the end of the century, it has been determined that Buddy and Pedro need to spend time with female penguins rather than with each other. The Metro Toronto Zoo is one of forty zoos involved in breeding programmes. For this reason, the penguin pals will soon be separated.

Public outcry since this announcement has been widespread. Facebook and twitter are all abuzz with talk of these penguins. There are accusations of homophobia. Gay penguin rights groups have formed. Jokes have been made on late night television. Zoo officials admit there will be separation anxiety. Scientists suggest that one or both of the animals could suffer serious depression from being torn away from each other.   

Tom Mason, the zoo's curator of birds says, “But in the long run they’re more important to the population as a whole … these animals are very important to the survival of the species in North America.”

If you believe that an individual penguin's rights supercede what's best for the species, you would probably suggest this pair be left alone. If on the other hand, you feel that it's important to keep these particular penguins from becoming extinct, you probably agree with zoo officials that they should be separated and paired with female penguins. What are your thoughts on this sensitive issue?
Photos taken in Luisenpark, Mannheim, Germany

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