By staff reporter Jessie Van Berkel
A round, fuzzy, gray penguin flapped flightless wings and wriggled in Celine Pardo‘s hands this week as she returned him to a behind-the-scenes burrow at Woodland Park Zoo.
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STEVE RINGMAN/THE SEATTLE TIMES
The month-old chick is one of two Humboldt penguins born recently at the zoo. Fourteen of the birds have been born there since the exhibit opened two years ago.
Humboldt penguins are an endangered species native to Peru and Chile. The zoo is breeding the penguins and trying to diversify the gene pool of the population.
The two chicks are genetically valuable because their parents have only had one set of babies in the past and their genes are underrepresented, said Shawn Pedersen, a collection manager at the zoo.
Zookeepers hope the latest additions will be able to join the display by the end of August. For now, they’re tucked away in dark, confined spaces, where they nest with their parents.
Pardo and another zookeeper are in charge of the penguins and take out the chicks a couple times a week. On Tuesday, Pardo wiped down a penguin with a washcloth, checked it for injuries and weighed it in a bucket.
Soon the zookeepers will prepare the two animals for life in the display by acclimating them to water, people and loud noises, and teaching them to respond to their names.
Neither bird yet has a name — that’ll come as the penguins’ personalities develop, Pardo said. Previous penguins were named Milagro — “Miracle” in Spanish, because the bird survived a broken shell — and Diablo, who was particularly fiesty, Pardo said.
Both Pedersen and Pardo have histories of working with birds at the zoo, but said penguins are an entirely different world.
Pardo spends five days a week with the penguins and knows their quirks and personalities.
“Their behaviors are so complex,”she said. When zoo-goers watch a display for a few minutes, they only have a snapshot of the animals. “If you sat and watched them for hours, they do so many things, you have no idea.”