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Toronto Zoo Breaks Up Adorable Penguin Bromance

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A pair of male African penguins at the Toronto Zoo have become an international cause célèbre after zoo administrators decided to split the two up for breeding purposes. Whether the pair -- named Pedro and Buddy -- are in fact “gay,” as several hundred sniggering headlines, TV reports and late-night comics have reported, is highly debatable. Brought from a “bachelor flock” at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary to mate with Toronto’s female penguins, the two instead formed a close bond, displaying what keepers describe as a courtship behaviour with each other while ignoring the Torontonian females they were supposed to be making happy feet with. It’s not surprising, perhaps, that the pair have attracted rumors. Penguins are, after all, the most impeccably dressed of flightless avians.

And Pedro and Buddy are not the first “gay” penguins to attract attention. In the early 2000s, Wendell and Cass, another pair of male African penguins “known for a tidy nest and enduring lust” attracted attention at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island. In 2004, New York’s Central Park Zoo was famously home to Roy and Silo, a bonded pair of male chinstrap penguins who tried hatching a rock before keepers gave them an abandoned fertile egg. Their offspring, a female named Tango, became the star of a controversial children’s book -- And Tango Makes Three --  but the pair broke up in 2004, when Silo scandalously formed a relationship with a female penguin, the hussy.

Z and Vielpunkt, a couple of male Humboldt penguins in Germany’s Bremerhaven Zoo, got attention in 2009 when they successfully hatched and raised an abandoned chick that keepers put in their nest. A male penguin couple were kicked out of their colony in a Chinese zoo in 2008, when they tried to steal eggs from male-and-female pairs, cleverly switching the eggs they were stealing with stones. “But visitors complained when the penguins were removed,” reported the Los Angeles Times, “and eventually they were given two eggs of their own. Since then, a keeper told the Daily Mail, "they’ve turned out to be the best parents in the whole zoo."

But underneath all the not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that, nudge-nudge hilarity and Brokeback Iceberg quips, there’s a genuine and compelling reason for the Toronto Zoo’s attempts to split the two up. Reports the National Post:

“In the 1990s, an estimated 225,000 African penguins lived in the wild. Nowadays the number is closer to 60,000 -- and dropping fast. The cause, biologists suspect, is changing ocean currents that are driving food sources further and further away from penguin breeding grounds on the African coast. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has estimated that wild stocks of African penguins could be completely wiped out before the end of the century.”

(See also: Can America Afford Not to Let Bert and Ernie Get Married?)
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