Taronga's Fiordland Penguins Step Out
Monday 17th March 2008

Date: 17.03.2008

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Taronga's keepers have discovered Fiordland Penguins like to walk.

Zoo visitors have been enchanted to discover Mr Munro and female penguins, 'Chalky' and 'Milford' out for a stroll through the Zoo grounds as part of their exercise routine.

Mr Munro made news headlines last year after being nursed back to health at Taronga Zoo following a heroic 2000km swim across the sub-Antarctic waters from New Zealand. Along with his female friends, Chalky and Milford the youngster has begun walking from Taronga's penguin exhibit much to the delight of Zoo visitors who adore watching the trio explore their surrounds.

Marine Mammals Keeper, Elly Neumann, said: "The Penguins really enjoy their walk, although it is more of a 'nanna' stroll as they take in the sights and sounds around the Zoo. It is wonderful to watch the penguins investigate different areas and helps develop the relationship we have with these remarkable animals."

"When visitors meet them during their walk it really raises their understanding of just how unique the species are and gives us a chance to educate people about the threats facing Fiordlands and just how endangered these extraordinary animals are," said Elly.

Mr. Munro, Chalky and Milford are the only Fiordland Crested Penguins to be cared for by a Zoo anywhere in the world. Fiordlands 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.

Taronga Zoo is hoping that Mr. Munro will mate with one of the females and breed a new generation of Fiordland Crested Penguins providing the unique opportunity to study the breeding and brooding behaviour and habits of these shy and elusive penguins.

"Milford has definitely taken a shine to Mr. Munro and bosses Chalky around whenever she gets close to him, but being a typical boy, Munro is definitely a loveable rogue and is happy to receive attention from both of his female companions," said Elly.

"We are hoping that Munro and the girls will breed naturally but as they are the only three in zoo populations and there are less than 1000 breeding pairs in the wild we cannot be complacent. We must explore all opportunities available and will start artificial insemination shortly, so their new exercise routine will ensure the penguins are of optimum health and fitness."

Artificial insemination has been used successfully in many species such as Little Penguins, giraffes and Rhinoceros enabling Zoos to create insurance populations in case of a complete collapse in the wild.  In many cases zoo breeding programs are the only thing that stands between a species survival and extinction.

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 .

Taronga and Western Plains Zoos care for 4000 animals from over 350 species, provide conservation messages to over 1.5 million visitors and conservation education to over 100,000 school students annually. The Zoos also conduct a huge range of conservation research, breeding and in situ projects from Antarctica to Mongolia and throughout Australia and Asia, while providing wildlife health services to thousands of native animals each year.

Taronga Zoos Fiordland Penguins

Taronga is the only zoo in the world to display and care for Fiordland Penguins.

Until recently Taronga has been home to two females, 'Milford' and 'Chalky' which have been without male company for more than a decade. In April, 2007, the girls were introduced to Mr. Munro a young male Fiordland Penguin who was washed up on a north coast beach, providing us with the opportunity to potentially breed this vulnerable species and learn more about their breeding and brooding habits.

The Fiordlands had to remain in Australia due to strict quarantine relating to the possible disease risk of transferring the birds back to New Zealand.

The three Fiordland Penguins are living at Taronga's Penguin Beach but will relocate to a brand new exhibit within the new Great Southern Oceans complex just below their current home.

Mr. Munro

Mr. Munro was bought to Taronga Zoo in November 2006 after he washed up near Norah Heads suffering from malnutrition problems after an epic 2, 000km swim across the 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, consequently he now calls Taronga home.

Mr. Munro is now a very lively, robust male after being rehabilitated at the Zoo's Wildlife Clinic where he more than doubled his weight since arrival and loves nothing more than a tasty treat of pilchards.

Since Mr. Munro is a wild bird, it is difficult to know his exact age; however it is thought the young adult may be around two years old.

Mr. Munro is named after Munro Beach in New Zealand where remnant populations of Fiordland Penguins are found.

Chalky and Milford

The females, Chalky and Milford, arrived at Taronga Zoo separately after being washed ashore suffering exhaustion and illness. Milford arrived in 1994 and Chalky joined her one year later.

Where possible Taronga tries to give its animals culturally significant names, this helps visitors gain a further appreciation of the countries the animals come from and hopefully inspire them to learn more about wildlife in other regions.  Chalky and Milford are no exception, being named after Chalky Inlet and Milford Sound located in New Zealand's South Island.

Having been together for more than a decade the females share a very strong bond. Throughout the years, they have continued to lay eggs despite not having a male to fertilise them. Each year they have shared the task of incubating them, taking it in turns to swim, feed and sit on the egg. At the change of shift they call and display to each other.

The female Fiordlands which are about 55 cm tall, love to rule the roost at Taronga's Penguin Beach and enjoy letting the Little Penguins, with which they share the exhibit, know who's boss. They are also much more interested in people than the Little Penguins and like to greet their keepers when they enter the exhibit.

Chalky can be identified by her spottier feet; she has fewer feathers on her chest region and a small segment missing out of her left flipper due to an old injury. Chalky is also more inquisitive and follows the keepers around the enclosure looking at everything that is happening before resuming her normal activities.

Milford, on the other hand, is more tactile, has longer, spikier crests than Chalky and enjoys a scratch from her keepers.

Both of the females are very intelligent and have taken part in cognitive research in which they were trained to differentiate between vertical and horizontal objects. They also become exceptionally excited at feeding time so have been taught to stand on a specific spot to ensure they receive the right quantity of food: Chalky on a yellow circle and Milford on a red square.

For more information contact Media Relations:

Ph: +61 2 9978 4606
Fax: +61 2 9978 4511
Email: tzpr@zoo.nsw.gov.au