When a heterosexual Humboldt penguin couple rejected their unhatched egg this spring, zookeepers at Germany’s Bremerhaven Zoo found a happy home for the abandoned egg in the nest of gay penguin pair, Z and Vielpunkt. “Another couple threw the egg out of their batch,” the zoo’s vet said in a statement. “We picked it up and put it in the nest of the gay penguins” [The Advocate]. The couple then incubated the egg for more than a month before hatching a healthy chick that is now about four weeks old.
Z and Vielpunkt have been caring for the chick just as a heterosexual penguin couple would, say animal experts. They’ve been taking care of their chick around the clock; it’s still too young to feed itself, so the dads feed him fish mash [Los Angeles Times]. But the pair is not the first same-sex penguin couple to raise a child: a pair at Central Park Zoo in New York also hatched an egg, but only after they tried to incubate a rock until they were given an abandoned egg. Another male penguin couple were removed from their colony in a Chinese zoo last year when they repeatedly tried to steal eggs from male-and-female pairs. (In a rather ingenious move, they actually replaced the eggs they were stealing with rocks.) [Los Angeles Times]
The happy family scene is a pleasant ending to a story that’s been unfolding at the Bremerhaven Zoo over several years. Six male penguins at the zoo raised eyebrows in 2005 when they tried to mate with each other and attempted to hatch little ones from stones. The zoo flew in four females in a bid to get the endangered birds to reproduce – but quickly abandoned the scheme after causing outrage among gay rights activists, who accused it of interfering in the animals’ behaviour [BBC News].
Although homosexual behavior among animals has been documented many times and in many different species, its origins are still not fully understood. Some scientists postulate it serves a role in establishing dominance among animals, and may be have to do with social bonding. Other animals may simply exhibit a “drive to mate”, while others may, like humans, enjoy non-procreative sexual activity. “Homosexuality is nothing unusual among animals,” [the] zoo said on Wednesday. “Sex and coupling up in our world do not necessarily have anything to do with reproduction” [BBC].
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Image: flickr / shimgray