SUAMICO, WI (WBAY/CNN) – The new year has brought some additions to the African penguin colony at the NEW Zoo in Wisconsin: two adorable baby African penguins.
Animal curator Carmen Murach is caring for one of the chicks, while penguin parents “Doodle” and “Gilligan” raise the other.
"Yeah, that's good for you to do some 'peeping' and being awake – it’s good exercise,” Murach told the baby penguin.
Because the penguins are not a cold weather species, the chicks are being kept indoors during the winter.
Murach said the zoo’s 10 pairs of adults also have been out of view, inside a warm building living a life reminiscent of the TV show “The Bachelor.”
"They're very social animals, and there's a soap opera going on in there,” Murach said. “There are some birds who are just bent on stealing somebody else's mate. There are troublemakers in the mix who are just looking for a little action on the side."
The bitter cold weather has kept both young and adult penguins inside, and for good reason: breeding efforts at facilities like the NEW Zoo could be essential amid diminishing penguin populations in the wild.
"How can you not love this little guy?” Murach said while holding one of the chicks. “And if you love this little guy, you should really care about his species in the wild as well."
The species has seen its wild breeding population plummet by 95 percent since the turn of the century, due to human activity like gathering eggs and stripping breeding grounds for fertilizer.
"The colonies have not been able to rebuild that yet, so nesting has become more difficult for them,” Murach said. “The food, the fish they need to find are getting harder to find."
Which is why zoos across the country are banding together to raise awareness and money to help restore habitat for the penguins.
And babies like those at the NEW Zoo – which grow the captive population – just might represent the best hope for the survival of the endangered species.
“The cute factor – boy, let’s not let this go extinct,” Murach said.
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