17 July 2023
This year’s hatch of 11 Humboldt penguin chicks take to the water for the first time at London Zoo.
No armbands were necessary in London Zoo’s nursery penguin pool this week, as 11 young Humboldt penguin chicks took to the water for their first swimming lesson.
The chicks, named Kermit, Ron Burgundy, Stella, Piggy, Ernest, Cricket, Tiki, Ping, Pong, Sean and Karen, hatched on the zoo’s iconic Penguin Beach during April and May and, after spending their first weeks tucked away in their cosy nest boxes, zookeepers stepped in this week to help the birds find their flippers in the conservation zoo’s training pool.
Penguin keeper Jessica Rae explained: “Covered in soft, downy feathers, newly hatched chicks aren’t able to swim straight away, but at around 6-12 weeks old these fuzzy feathers are replaced by two layers of stiff, overlapping waterproof, black and white feathers – perfect for swimming.
“After tentatively inspecting the training pool, the chicks have started to test out the water this week; some were splashing around in no time, while others took a little longer to take the plunge.”
Jessica added: “Each of the chicks will approach swimming at their own pace, just like humans who learn to crawl and walk at slightly different times.”
Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) are native to coastal Peru and Chile and are excellent natural swimmers. Their paddle-like wings act as flippers, propelling them through the water as if they’re flying.
Jessica said “Adult Humboldt penguins can reach up to 30 miles per hour in the water. These youngsters have some way to go, but we’re really pleased with the progress they’re making so far.”
Once strong enough, the 11 chicks will move to the conservation zoo’s main penguin pool, where they’ll join the colony of 76 Humboldt penguins.
“It’s been great to see the chicks grow in confidence as their swimming ability improves,” Jessica added. “They’re almost ready to re-join the other penguins on Penguin Beach, where they’ll dive into our 500,000 litre penguin pool – the largest in England.”
An iconic seabird, Humboldt penguins are sadly classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with their numbers in the wild falling. Disturbance caused by the harvesting of their droppings - which makes an effective fertiliser - as well as pollution caused by oil spills and overfishing are all contributors to their decline.
ZSL, the international conservation charity behind London Zoo, works across the world to protect threatened species and restore habitats. In 2014, ZSL collaborated with Oxford University to protect penguins in Antarctica, one of the most inhospitable place on earth, gathering valuable data to inform global climate change policy.
Four of the chicks - Ping, Pong, Sean and Karen - were named as part of a charity auction at ZSL’s 2022 Safari in the City Gala. The conservation charity’s annual fundraising event raises funds to support ZSL’s work bringing wildlife back from the very brink of extinction and restoring the natural world. This year’s Safari in the City will take place on 20 September 2023, find out more about tables and tickets.