African penguins on exhibit at zoo for 1st time in decades

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The sibling birds, both male, have been busy exploring their habitat, spending time swimming in their chilled pool and sunning themselves on the rocky beach area. (Photo taken on Dec. 18, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo)

SAN DIEGO — African penguins went on exhibit Thursday at the San Diego Zoo for the first time in more than three decades.

Two male penguins took up temporary residence in the Children’s Zoo area.

“They’ll be here for the next two-and-a-half years while we’re building our new state-of-the art exhibit in Dog and Cat Canyon as part of a very large project called Africa Rocks,” said Dave Rimlinger, the zoo’s curator of birds.

The penguins, about 18 months old, came from the Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls and spent 30 days in quarantine. Since venturing out into their habitat, they’ve been swimming in a pool that’s chilled to 55 degrees and sunning themselves on a rocky beach area.

The zoo plans to use the penguins as ambassadors that will make occasional educational appearances to bring awareness about their species, which faces many threats in the wild.

“African penguins are one of the most endangered penguins,” Rimlinger said.  “Their total world population has declined by 60 percent in the last 10 to 15 years. These two penguins are just the beginning of a large flock that we hope to acquire over the next couple of years and start breeding this species.”

San Diego Zoo Global works with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums on conservation efforts for African penguins in South Africa and takes part in a conservation action plan.

Threats faced by African penguins in the wild including commercial fishing, human disturbance of habitat and oil spills, according to the zoo.

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