Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Baby Mac Somewhat Reluctant to Swim

The baby macaroni penguin is almost ready to go swimming for the first time, but it seems a little reluctant to play in the water. “When we take the chick into the back-up areas with the shallow pools, it is distracted and doesn’t seem to be interested in the water,” says senior aviculturist Amy Graves. Graves and the other penguin keepers have been letting this little one mingle with the other birds for short periods off and on throughout the day recently. This gives the macaroni chick a chance to get used to interacting with the other penguins and allows the other birds time to safely satisfy their curiosity. “We still have to watch the chick because the other penguins could get a bit excited and peck and squabble a bit,” Graves said. “But that’s part of life in the colony for every new penguin. Even though there’s no hierarchy, there are still some social rules that each bird has to learn. So we’re giving the chick some opportunities to learn those rules a little bit at a time.”

Gentoos Zeus and Pebbles have led keepers on an agonizing route with their chick similar to gentoos Bug and Big T. At first it appeared as though Zeus and Pebbles might turn out to be exceptional parents like macaronis Paulie and Chaos. However, within a few days of hatching, the new gentoo chick was not being fed properly by the gentoo parents. Staff members carefully monitored the situation, stepping in to feed and hydrate the chick when it was necessary. The baby was always returned to the parents after being cared for and sometimes the parents would suddenly start doing everything properly again. “It’s important to give the parents every opportunity to raise their own chick in order to help them become better parents in the future,” explained Kevin Calhoon, the Aquarium’s assistant curator of forests. “Sometimes they would return to feeding the chick normally, other times the feedings were lackluster.” As time went on, the feedings became more sporadic as Zeus and Pebbles seemed to lose some interest in the growing chick. “Once the chick cannot fit completely under the parents, the gentoos tend to not feed as much. This happened with Bug and Big T, and it happened with Zeus and Pebbles. Similar behavior has been reported to us by some of the other penguin experts we consulted with,” Calhoon said. This chick’s health was a roller-coaster. On some days Amy would report a nice weight gain, on other days, she would share her growing concern because of a setback. In spite of everyone’s best efforts, consulting with leading penguin experts and round the clock feedings, dramatic improvement was often followed by weight loss. Unfortunately we lost the battle and the chick died Friday afternoon. We don’t know at this time what ultimately led to this chick’s death, but observations from the preliminary examination will be combined with results of pending lab analysis to determine the cause of death.

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