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A rare penguin that braved a record-breaking 2,000km swim and washed up on a remote beach dying from starvation has not only been successfully nursed back to health, but was this morning introduced to two females of his species and is looking forward to moving into a custom-designed new home at Taronga Zoo.

Mr. Munro was bought to Taronga Zoo in November 2006 after he washed up near Norah Heads suffering from malnutrition and respiratory problems after an epic 2,000km swim across sub-Antarctic waters.  Being one of the most endangered penguin species in the world, the risk of being a carrier of unknown disease meant that Mr Munro could not be returned to the wild, so he now calls Taronga home.

The arrival and subsequent introduction of Mr Munro to Taronga's resident females, 'Chalky' and 'Milford' is a long awaited event as Taronga is the only Zoo in the world to care for this species of penguin and the females have resided without male company for over a decade.  

Taronga Zoo's Penguin Keeper, Jo Walker, said: "Due to strict importation and quarantine rules for bird species we literally had to wait for a male to wash up on our shoreline, so Mr. Munro is definitely a welcome addition and we hope their initial vocalisations and frolicking in the pools together is a sign they will be firm friends."

The females Chalky and Milford have lived at Taronga for 13 years after separately washing up on Australian beaches within a year of each other. As the females had already developed a strong bond, the introduction of Mr. Munro has been a gradual one.  Mr. Munro has been living with the Zoo's Little Penguin colony which enabled him to establish his territory before being introduced to the girls. This provided the penguins with the opportunity to become familiar with each other before sharing the penguin exhibit together for short periods of time.

In the lead up to the breeding season Mr Munro, Chalky and Milford will live together at the Penguin exhibit to encourage them to do what comes naturally and hopefully breed a new generation of Fiordland Crested Penguins.

"Initially Mr. Munro and Milford appear to be quite curious about each other. Being one of the most endangered penguins in the world we have hopes that Munro may breed with one of the girls giving us the unique opportunity to study the behaviour and habits of these shy and elusive penguins."

"With less than 1,000 breeding pairs in the wild, research on this species is scant and we'll now be able to help unlock some of the secrets of the species' breeding and brooding habits, which has been difficult to study as they live in temperate rainforest in southern New Zealand and generally nest in thick vegetation," Jo said.

Taronga Zoo is asking its visitors and Sydneysiders to support Mr Munro and the girls by donating to the Taronga Foundation's Great Southern Oceans Appeal which is committed to raising 10 million dollars for the Zoo's new marine precinct due to open later in 2007. 'Great Southern Oceans' is a major project which will provide a custom-designed new home for the Fiordland family, Little Penguins and many seal species. Further information can be found at www.oceansappeal.com.au.

Fiordland Penguins are listed as a 'vulnerable' species and are only found in the wet coastal rainforests of New Zealand's Fiordland and Stewart Islands. They are threatened due to habitat destruction and introduced predators.

Fiordland Penguins

Height:

22 inches

Weight:

6-7 lbs

Range:

Southern New Zealand and nearby islands

Breeding season:

July - November

Nesting:

2 eggs laid, incubated by both parents, 32 - 35 days. Only one chick raised.

Fledgling stage:

10 - 11 weeks

The Fiordland Penguin is a distinctive species of penguin with a long droopy crest of bright yellow feathers starting at the bill and extending back behind the eyes. They are often known as the 'Groucho Marx' of penguins due to these striking bushy yellow eye brows. 

They are shy and timid and live and breed on the rugged west and southwest coastlands of the South Island of New Zealand, including two offshore islands of Stewart and Solander.

The breeding and brooding habits of this penguin have been difficult to study because it lives in the temperate rainforest. The nesting areas are difficult to see because of the thick vegetation where the nests are located. The total population has been estimated to be fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs.

Fiordland penguins make their nest in the soft ground in the thick undergrowth of plants well apart from other birds' nests. Usually two eggs are laid but only one chick survives. The egg is kept warm for 30 to 36 days with the male and the female taking turns on the nest in long five to 12 day shifts. After the eggs hatch the male stays with the chick for two to three weeks while the female brings food. Chicks are left alone to hide in the underbrush or they may form small crèches while both parents hunt food. Chicks get their adult feathers and go to sea in about 75 days.

This species of penguin have an unusual vocalisation. It has been called a cross between geese with colds, pigs grunting and a baby wailing.

The Fiordland Penguin is listed as vulnerable and numbers appear to be deteriorating. Threats to this species include lack of habitat, hunting by introduced species and they often become a by-catch of fisheries.

They are also known as the "Fiordland crested penguins" and the "thick-billed penguins".

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