NEW ORLEANS (WAFB) - Penguins may not be able to fly on their own, but 20 of the 40 African penguins from the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas got on a plane and flew across the country to their new homes.
The big move is a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP program aims to promote and maintain a healthy and genetically sustainable captive populations of select species.
"Collaboration with other institutions is essential to maintain a 'safety net' population of endangered species in human care," said Darwin Long, senior aviculturist at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. "By stirring the genetic pot, we can ensure the sustainability of a diverse and healthy penguin population," Long continued.
Since its opening in 1990, the New Orleans-based aquarium has hatched 54 penguins, with 13 of those hatching in the last three years.
After veterinarians gave the flightless foul their final exit exams, Audubon staff carefully prepared for the birds' departure for the Idaho Falls Zoo, the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory in Minnesota, and the Maryland Zoo.
"We're looking forward to welcoming the penguins into our existing colony", said Michelle Furrer, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory director.
"SSP programs are our opportunity as zoos and aquariums to help conserve endangered species worldwide," said Dr. David Pennock, Idaho Falls Zoo superintendent. "The Black-footed penguin SSP is an important effort to help ensure the long-term viability of this wonderful endangered species," Pennock continued.
"We now have the room to house 100 penguins at Penguin Coast, and we look forward to adding to our colony," said Jen Kottyan, avian collection and conservation manager at The Maryland Zoo.
The transferred penguins were selected based on their genetic makeup, future breeding capability, age, compatibility with other colony members, and ownership records.
"They have truly enriched our facility and touched the hearts and minds of countless guests, families, and school children. They will be missed, but they are going to fantastic new homes to be cared for by staff who will take good care of them." said Beth Firchau, director of animal husbandry at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.