As a same-sex pairing, two male penguins in a Danish zoo were unable to lay eggs. Yet they watched as all the straight couples around them had chicks and families. But then, one day, they couldn’t believe their luck – they saw a baby penguin standing by itself. They waddled over to investigate.
Since its opening in 1930, Denmark’s Odense Zoo has gone from strength to strength. From containing only six species in its early, the zoo presently has a whopping 147 species within its confines. In fact, the zoo was even granted the Best in Europe award back in 2013.
The zoo’s penguins have been the residents attracting the most attention recently, though. That’s because two of their number – the gay male couple – have recently achieved viral fame. And it’s all because of their reaction to a baby chick which had briefly been left by its parents to fend for itself.
In most penguin species, both male and female penguins share parental duties. They take it in turns to warm up their eggs, and to feed the chicks when they hatch. Young penguins even hide from cold winds under both of their parent’s bodies.
Unable to provide one another with a chick, this was an experience that had been lacking in the gay penguins’ lives. This scenario, indeed, raises questions about homosexuality within different species of animals. Though such behavior has been observed in all sorts of animals, the truth is that we still don’t understand much about it.
Aspects of homosexual behavior in animals remain a mystery. In humans, homosexuality is obviously well-documented, and people can voice their feelings. Yet the motivations for such behavior in animals is more difficult to ascertain, as studies on the subject have not been exhaustive.
In any case though, experts have indeed observed many species undertaking in gay interactions. This is in contrast to scientific consensus in the past, which tended not to consider the notion with much seriousness. Yet regardless of scientists’ disinterest in the subject, the behavior continued to occur in numerous cases.
Monkeys and apes, some of our closest relatives genetically, are a good example. Bonobos are some of the most famously promiscuous apes, with individuals getting busy with males and females alike. Japanese macaques also seem fond on sexual contact with the same gender.
Or, at least, the females do. They often leave the male macaques out in the cold while the lady-loving ladies do their thing. And it’s not limited to the more intelligent species, either; birds, fish and even insects don’t always confine their sexual experiences to one gender.
So when the video of our two penguins in the Danish zoo recently went viral, it wasn’t the fact that they were gay that drew in the attention. Rather, it was what the video showed. The footage, which Odense Zoo uploaded to Facebook on September 25, 2018, partially reveals what happened – and it’s like a penguin soap opera!
Sandie Hedgegård Munck, the penguin’s keeper, provided some context to Danish broadcaster DR. Munck described how she could tell that “there was something wrong” when she went to the penguin enclosure. A baby penguin appeared to be missing.
Or, as Munck put it, “The only parent couple was gone, and the kid had simply been kidnapped.” But the zookeeper didn’t have to look far to find the chick. It was sitting with the gay penguin couple, who were keeping it company in its parents’ absence.
As for what happened to the baby’s parents, Munck has a theory. “I think the female [had] been out to get her bath,” she explained to DR. “And then it [had] been the male’s turn to care of the kid.” Unfortunately, he was not an attentive parent.
The father wandered off and, as a result, the gay couple decided to prove their parenting skills. Instead of leaving the poor chick crying, they took it under their wings, so to speak. So how did the absent parents react?
At first, barely at all! By all accounts, the chick’s mother was an overly protective parent. “She is also very aggressive to us animal lovers if we get too close to the kid,” Munck reported. But initially, they didn’t seem too concerned.
As time went on, though, the parents grew tired of waiting for the gay penguins to return their chick. That’s where the video footage picks up, showing that feathers almost start flying! The biological parents confront the carers.
Because of this confrontation, Munck had to take matters into her own hands. The video shows how she intervenes and gives the baby back to its biological parents. Consequently, the shouting penguins calm down and normal penguin life resumes. For the most part, anyway.
“It’s a great exercise for them to care for these kids,” Munck told DR, referring to the gay penguins. “They are also often very helpful. If now [a] male forgets to take care of the egg, we can always give it to one [of the] pair.”
It’s heart-warming to see how much the gay penguins cared for the foster child nestled under their bodies. But it must have been tough for them, when they were separated from their chance at parenthood. But thankfully, this story has a happy ending for all the penguins involved.
Since the couple showed such paternal skills for their “borrowed” chick, Odense Zoo gave them a gift. Keepers came into possession of an egg from a penguin mother unable to care for it. Now the gay couple have one of their own and look forward to being happy fathers!