Metro Richmond Zoo in Virginia has quite a momentous occasion to celebrate this year. Metro Richmond Zoo, a privately owned zoo in Chesterfield County, Virginia, is the home of a very special African penguin. ET is a female African penguin who has resided at the zoo since 1995. Born on the 28th of January, 1980, ET has just turned 43 years of age. This is a record-smashing birthday for the penguin which was already the oldest known African penguin to ever live.
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Wild African penguins typically live for 10 to 15 years. Older age is possible and wild individuals are known to reach 20 years if they are lucky. In captivity, though, birds receive food and medical care which allows their lifespans to grow. It is typical for African penguins kept in reputable and responsible zoos to live for as many as 25 to 30 years. Even amongst these comparatively long-lived penguins, ET is outstanding. The previous oldest living African penguin, Tess, was a resident of the Pueblo Zoo in Pueblo, Colorado. Tess lived to be 40 years old before succumbing to suspected kidney issues in early 2015.
According to zookeepers and handlers at the Metro Richmond Zoo, ET has no such life-threatening health problems for the time being. Zoo staff reports that ET is arthritic, which is typical for elderly penguins, and for which she is being medicated. She does also have vision issues, however her handlers say that she remains active and gets around just fine.
African penguins mate for life, and thanks to the outstanding length of ET’s life, she has outlived two of her mates during her time at the Metro Richmond Zoo. She and her current mate, Einstein, have been given a private area, away from the common habitat of the other penguins, so that ET can “spend her senior years without any penguin drama.”
For her birthday, ET was given a “cake” featuring plenty of fish; perfect for the birthday celebration of the oldest African penguin!
At the beginning of the 19th century, African penguins had a population which was estimated to be as high as 4 million birds. By the beginning of the 21st century, this population was reduced to just 200,000 birds. Since then, populations have continued their sharp decline. They sit at around 55,000 individuals today. Threatened by oils spills, human encroachment, guano harvesting, and climate concerns, the future of this species in the wild looks grim. ET is a poignant reminder of the incredible potential of these birds when conditions are favorable.
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