A pair of male penguins has adopted an abandoned chick, now about a month old, at a zoo in Bremerhaven, Germany. Zoo veterinarian Joachin Schöne said Wednesday that the two Humboldt penguins took turns incubating the egg, which had been abandoned by its biological parents. Zookeepers had placed the egg near the two male penguins in the hope that they would care for it as their own. The experiment, so far, has worked.
The chick hatched at the end of April and the proud fathers Z and Vielpunkt -- who have been a couple for years, the zoo said -- quickly acted like surrogate parents. Every day they clean, protect and feed the little penguin a solid diet of pre-digested fish.
"They care for it in a very touching way -- just like a heterosexual couple," Schöne said. The young penguin is not yet named and its gender is still unknown.
Three same-sex couples within the zoo's collection of endangered Humboldt penguins garnered press attention in 2005 when Swedish females were brought in to encourage the penguins to reproduce. The attempt was unsuccessful. All the penguins remained with their chosen mates.
Homosexuality is not unusual in the animal kingdom, the zoo said. A given percentage of many species pair up with members of the same sex and even engage in sexual behavior. Male penguin couples have also been known to incubate eggs and raise chicks in other zoos around the world.
Humboldt penguins' natural habitat -- the coasts of Chile and Peru -- has seen an overfishing of anchovy, their traditional prey. The collapse in fish population has caused penguin numbers to drop by somewhere between 12,000 and 20,000 birds.