Grey, fluffy and nearly as big as mummy: Humboldt penguin chicks at Hellabrunn Zoo
The baby boom at Hellabrunn Zoo continues: the latest new births include five Humboldt penguin chicks recently hatched from their eggs. The Humboldt penguin is classified as threatened and listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
For quite some time now, visitors could only guess whether the eggs had hatched, that is until one of the chicks summed up the courage to make its way to the entrance of the nest. Humboldt penguins are hole brooders, and as a result four of the five chicks have remained mostly hidden inside their nest burrow, away from the eyes of visitors. This year only one penguin couple incubated their eggs outside of the stone cave nest, instead choosing the protection of the large roots of a tree, and thus allowing an early glimpse of their grey, fluffy offspring.
"It's great to see that after the birth of the king penguin chicks last autumn, we now have new offspring for the Humboldt penguins," says zoo director Rasem Baban. "We are particularly delighted with the successful breeding of animals that are endangered in their natural habitat."
Humboldt Penguins live along the South American Pacific coast in Peru and Chile and on the offshore islands. Threats to the population include pollution, overfishing and the impact of climate change on the sea currents.
Another major threat is the overharvesting of guano for fertiliser. Guano is the accumulated droppings of penguins and other seabirds. These mounds of hardened bird manure - often several metres high - are vital for the survival of the Humboldt penguin as this is where they burrow their nests. However the bird droppings are rich in phosphate and nitrate, making it a highly effective fertiliser. The harvesting of guano was a multi-million dollar industry and a source of fabulous wealth during the guano boom of the 19th century. Exports of guano then accounted for the majority of Peru's national budget and helped to revive the economy of the young republic and repay its international debt. Today the country has adopted a more sustainable approach to guano harvesting with only a small percentage of its heyday output extracted.
Hellabrunn Zoo is a member of Sphenisco e.V., an association dedicated to the preservation of the Humboldt penguin. The primary objective of the association is to save the breeding colonies and surrounding marine habitat of the Humboldt penguin by working with conservationists and scientists in Chile and Peru. Sphenisco also runs awareness campaigns to educate and engage the local population.