Will ‘Gay’ Penguins Reject Reunion?

Nov 15, 2011 12:24pm

The “gay” penguin cause celebre of 2011 isn’t over just yet. Buddy and Pedro, the two inseparable male birds at the Toronto Zoo whose impending break-up sparked public outcry, will be reunited in the spring. But that doesn’t mean they’ll want to pair up again.

As ABCNews.com reported last week, the two will be split up approximately one week from now for breeding season. Zookeepers want them to breed with females to help populate the species, which is endangered. But when the breeding season is over, all the African penguins will eventually return to the same enclosure, and “if Buddy and Pedro want to be together … they will be back together,” said Tom Mason, Toronto Zoo curator of birds.

But will they want to stay together after copulating and bonding with a female?

Before Buddy arrived at the Toronto Zoo, he paired with a female for “quite a few years,” and they had eggs together, Mason told ABCNews.com.

Buddy, 21, and Pedro, 10, lived in a zoo in Toledo, Ohio, before traveling to Canada to become part of the Toronto Zoo’s first African penguin exhibit in 18 years. Zookeepers quickly observed courtship and mating behaviors that are typically exhibited only between males and females, such as braying at one another, grooming each other, and standing side-by-side.

But if they each pair with a female who produces an egg, that’s a big incentive to stay with their new mates. According to P. Dee Boersma, a biology professor at the University of Washington, penguins usually get “divorced” because they fail to raise young.

“They are much more likely to divorce after a nest failure than if they are successful with their mate,” she says in a video on her website. “Those birds will tend to be faithful.”

The Toronto Zoo’s species survival plan aims to help the endangered penguins populate, but the process can’t be forced. It all depends on how well they “get along” with the female penguins.

Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., told ABCNews.com. “The way penguins work is they do get paired for a long time. Basically, the only other penguin they care about is their mate, so it’s important for them to find somebody who’s compatible.”

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