Gay Penguin Couple Adopts Chick in German Zoo

By Allison Bond | June 5, 2009 12:38 pm

humboldt penguinsWhen 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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • Marley Jones

    Gay activists should keep to their own affairs, if the species is nearing extinction due to our intervention in dislocating animals, we should do our best to minimize our impact to their habitat or provide natural substitution. If people choose to be gay then natural selection will take care of them…they should not determine if other species should follow the same plight.

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    Marley, they’re in a zoo – not a thing to do with their habitat.

  • Brad B

    Marley, Although there are some exceptions, most people don’t “choose” to be gay. But you probably already know that unless of course you are in the closet yourself. I’m not saying you are necessarily, but it’s usually the very ignorant or those struggling with secret homosexual leanings that actually think sexual identity is a choice.

    You also seem to have a fairly basic lack of understanding about the fundamentals of natural selection and evolutionary theory. I would suggest perhaps reading Stephen Jay Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. It should be very enlightening and should help keep you from sounding like a fool next time you voice your opinion.

    If you are indeed so concerned about the animal’s natural habitat, I hope you’re out there helping to put an end to global climate change which is reducing the habitat of an unprecedented number of species at an unprecedented rate.
    A few things I’ve done toward that end that weren’t too hard: became a vegetarian, quit driving, started: composting, recycling, gardening, buying locally produced goods.

  • stunt master

    gay rights activists want to do it with penguins.

  • Flying sardines

    @ # 4. stunt master :

    Well they do look like little butlers or nuns don’t they? ;-)
    Although I think actually, you’ll find its people who are into bestiality that want to do that. :roll:

    Whatever floats your boat .. or, in this case, ice floe I guess. ;-)

    “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

    Fish mash? Is that a funny way of saying their own vomit? ;-)
    Well regurgitated, pre-chewed, fishy matter anyhow.

    @ #1 Marley Jones :

    “If people choose to be gay then natural selection will take care of them…they should not determine if other species should follow the same plight.”

    Er ..what?! Are you suggesting that gay activists deliberately somehow forced a pair of penguins to become homosexual? Out of sheer morbid curiousity, how do you think they accomplished that?

    Plus, you do realise a pair of animals whatever the species isn’t the whole species don’t you? You seem to be implying otherwise. One set of gay penguins doesn’t jepordise all
    penguin-ity anymore than the presence of homosexuals in Humanity throughout recorded history and before harms humanity. Ie. Not at all.

    The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Effect OTOH … :-(

  • YouRang

    It seems to me that gay rights activists might want to keep this in the closet. In particular the “…another 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…” After all, this suggests the mechanism for gay antipathy. If gay activity of this sort is common in the animal kingdom, then a natural evolutionary drive would have arisen to hate gay activity and to violently oppose it. It also suggests a reason for an innate drive to hate gay marriage.

  • YouRang

    OTOH in the species Homo Sapiens, the only places polyandry is practiced are really harsh environment–IOW places that more or less need multiple males just to support one female and her offspring (the example was somewhere in Nepal, I think). It’s hard to think of a much harsher environment than that which penguins inhabit. (If one species happens to inhabit a relatively mild habitat, one can bet it had ancestors whose habitat was much harsher.) In any event, the homo sapiens nature suggests a place to look in the animal kingdom for multiple males raising the offspring of one female–harsh environments. It also suggests that homosexuality might be more common in species from such environments.

  • unevoloving

    [Comment removed by administrator]

  • atavism

    This is ridiculous. Are we supposed to become more pro-homosexuality after reading about penguins. Look, I’m all for gay marriage, but those gay penguins seem more confused than anything else.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    @ atavism: This isn’t an advocacy blog, it’s a blog devoted to interesting science. We’ve covered all manner of fascinating animal behavior stories. For example, we wrote about the chimp who was stockpiling rocks in his zoo enclosure, so that he could hurl them at visitors later in the day. That post wasn’t intended to make people pro-rock throwing chimps.

  • Chris Hogan

    I’m laughing at all the anti-gay idiots that are trying to spin this story to promote their own political agenda! Homosexuality is natural. ACCEPT IT. Why don’t you folks try and prove the existence of Noah’s arc, or reinstate the biblical institution of slavery? Or maybe you can take heart that some animals own their women the way you folks used to. We don’t try to force religious fundamentalists to accept reason, so don’t try to force scientists to accept mythology.

  • Dylan

    I found the reponses of Eliza & Chris to be similar to my own opinion.

    Myths, very similar to art, exist in an attempt to explain that which is inexplicable and eternal; the moment the myths violate science, they lose their credibility and function.

    This article seems to reiterate that, once again, same-sex sexual/relational behavior is just another interesting variance in nature.

    If I spot a rare pink orchid in nature, I don’t assign morality to its existence. I notice it because it isn’t common. So, this extreme negative response by certain individuals in the majority must serve some function.

    I wonder what, anthropologically speaking, the response to same-sex sexual/relational behavior in humans is about. The vehemence and hatred indicates it must serve some important cultural function (to them, certainly not to the entire culture, since parts of that culture – even of the majority – do not find that response necessary). If our race were in danger of extinction, this response would be an obvious need by the species to limit relationships not resulting in offspring. As it is….puzzling.

  • Jo

    Gay activists were outraged over attempts to get an endangered species to reproduce??!!!

    If there were more male penguins than female penguins, it stands to reason that some of the males would pair up (the urge to reproduce is powerful — they were trying to incubate rocks, after all). It’s common behaviour in zoos. I’m NOT implying that homosexuality is unnatural. Or even that same-sex penguin pairs can say ANYTHING about human sexual orientation or morality. Because it doesn’t. (And furthermore, even if homosexual behaviour were ‘unnatural’, it would matter in the least. We should not infer morality from nature, and interfering with the relationship of two consenting adults should be shameful on the basis of human decency alone.)

    On the other hand, this sounds so ridiculous that I have to wonder if the author is being hyperbolic or misleading in this sentence…

  • FILTHpig

    LOL @ Marley and atavism… you guy’s win the award for ‘Completely Missing the Point’! Great job being biggots and homophobes (against penguins none the less)!!!

  • Murgatroyd

    So when the wimpy owners of the zoo tried to introduce more female penguins, the homosexual community objected and the wimps gave in? Tsk. Leave it to gays to object to any kind of natural mating behavior.

  • Rick

    If you would like to observe other caged animals acting unnaturally go to american prisons.

  • angela

    Funny, and smart Rick! Circumstance is a very powerful pursuasion and therefore I find the agrument that these penguins are acting “natual” and truly biologically gay- false. Find me any gay animal. that are proven biologically gay and in their REAL natural circumstance. More study needed on that I think…I’d love to see that gay is biological to any species! I have many gay friends who would too and would find some peace of mind! Not to prove to me but for all the self centered morons out their that actually believe that people/ animals chose to be minority, ridiculed, oucast from families, depressed and limited. That’s worth funding if their not already. Chop-chop!! I’m tired of my friends not having the same rights as I.
    Back to the “jailed penguins” thanks for that story and best of luck to them! Xo

  • Zygarch

    Angela,
    I grew up with horses. There were between 20-30 in the pasture at any given time. Let me tell you, there was one horse, a palomino named Nicky, who was gay and would mount the other male horses day in and day out. Um, they didn’t like it and let Nicky know it. But it didn’t discourage him. Every time a new horse (male) was added to the pasture, Nicky would try to “make friends.” He completely ignored the females.

  • Jennifer Angela

    This story about gay penguins is heart-warming, informative, entertaining and educational – all at once. I find, that it is both very scientific and sweet. Thank you folks! You know how to provide people with knowledge that is more than informative – it´s also fun!

    I would like to thank the guy who mentioned a really interesting book: Stephen Jay Gould’s: The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. I am going to read it!

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