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The World’s Oldest African Penguin Has Died

African Penguin

Earlier this year, I reported on the very special birthday of a very special bird. ET, an African Penguin, was born on the 28th of January, 1980, two years before the premiere of her namesake film. On June 17th, 2023, ET passed away. She was 43 years old. This is no mean feat. ET not only held the title of the oldest living African Penguin up until her death, she still remains the record-holder for the oldest African Penguin ever to live.

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ET was hatched at the Detroit Zoo, before moving to the Columbus Zoo where she received her name. She lived at the Columbus Zoo for several years before moving to the Metro Richmond Zoo in Moseley, Virginia, in 1995. She lived at the Metro Richmond Zoo for the remainder of her life.

ET’s extraordinary lifespan cannot be overstated. Her passing represents the end of a record-smashing life. The average African Penguin in the wild can be expected to live for 10 to 15 years. In captivity, this life expectancy can extend to over twenty years. An African Penguin living to 43 is unheard of.

In the course of ET’s long life, she contributed quite a bit to her species. African Penguins are endangered in the wild and zoo populations are often used for breeding programs to support and maintain a healthy captive population. During the course of ET’s time at the Metro Richmond Zoo, she had three mates. Penguins mate for life, but she outlived two of her mates. With these mates, ET laid 45 eggs, producing more offspring an impressive number of healthy offspring. According to the Metro Richmond Zoo, ET’s incredible longevity may run in the family, as one of her daughters lived to 37.

Although saying goodbye is painful, all good things must come to an end. In ET’s case, that end was peaceful and natural. Earlier this year, zookeepers reported that, like most elderly penguins, ET suffered from arthritis and vision issues. Both of these things were managed so that her quality of life remained intact. On the day of her death, ET was her usual self, a personality that zookeepers described as “saucy.” In the evening, though, she did not come to her keeper when called.

At that time, ET was taken to the zoo’s veterinarian for observation. She was determined to be dying of old age. At 43 years old, ET’s death was anticipated, but that doesn’t make it easier for her caretakers and fans. ET was a vivacious bird who lived to be almost triple the average age for wild birds of her species. May we all live such a long and full life.

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