June 4, 2009

Gay Penguins Adopt Chick

Germany's Bremerhaven zoo reports that two "gay" adult male penguins have hatched a chick and are now acting as its adoptive parents.

The male penguins, Z and Vielpunkt, were given an egg that had been rejected by its biological parents, the zoo said on Wednesday.

Z and Vielpunkt reported to be happily rearing the chick, which is now four weeks old.

Bremerhaven zoo made headlines in 2005 when it announced plans to "test" the sexual orientation of penguins with homosexual qualities.

Three pairs of male penguins had been observed attempting to mate with one another and attempting to hatch offspring from stones. So the zoo brought in four females to try to get the penguins to reproduce, but abandoned the plan shortly thereafter amid outrage by gay rights activists who accused the zoo of meddling in the animals' behavior. The six "gay" penguins, which include Z and Vielpunkt, remain at the zoo.

"Z and Vielpunkt, both males, gladly accepted their 'Easter gift' and got straight down to raising it," said the zoo in a statement.

"Since the chick arrived, they have been behaving just as you would expect a heterosexual couple to do. The two happy fathers spend their days attentively protecting, caring for and feeding their adopted offspring."

Humboldt penguins are typically found in coastal Peru and Chile, but their numbers have been declining as a result of overfishing, according to an AFP news agency report.

Exclusive male-to-male penguin pairs, some of which are rearing chicks, have been previously reported.

Homosexual behavior is well documented in many different animal species, but it is not well understood, said University of Oxford evolutionary biologist Professor Stuart West.

West told BBC News that it had been theorized that homosexual activity could serve a variety of purposes.  For instance, it may be involved with social bonding and the establishment of dominance in bonobo chimps.   Meanwhile, females of some bird species may come together to rear young.

And some species may simply carry a "drive to mate", while others, like humans, may simply enjoy non-procreative sex.

"Homosexuality is nothing unusual among animals," said Bremerhaven zoo.

"Sex and coupling up in our world do not necessarily have anything to do with reproduction."