Widow a wedge between zoo's male penguin pair
Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Everyone who works at the San Francisco Zoo knows about Harry and Pepper, two male Magellanic penguins who share a burrow on Penguin Island.
They have been cohabitating for six years, even hatching a surrogate chick together and raising it as two proud gay daddies. They show all the behaviors of a heterosexual penguin couple - building a nest together, preening each others' feathers and love-tapping beaks. They just happen to be the only two dude penguins with the same address on Penguin Island.
All was domestic bliss until their next-door neighbor Fig died, widowing his mate, Linda.
"Whenever there's a single bird on the island, there's always a mad dash to find another mate or lose their burrow," said Harrison Edell, curator of birds.
In this case, it was Harry who strayed. He walked next door and bunked down with Linda in March, just in time for breeding season. They built a nest together, and Linda laid two eggs.
Pepper ventured in their burrow a few times in the three weeks after the breakup, prompting a temporary monthlong trip to the Avian Conservation Center on zoo grounds to chill out. A few other bachelor penguins, which were also looking for love and causing trouble, were sent to the center to calm down. No sparks flew between Pepper and the exiled bachelors, but the vacation seemed to help get Harry out of his system.
Pepper is now back on the island, living next door to his ex and Linda. Everyone appears to be getting along. No one is throwing things, spreading gossip or threatening lawsuits, Edell said.
"We're all curious to see who Pepper turns his attention to next," Edell said. "We have more males than females on the island, so there's that possibility - and we also have some younger females who need to mature before he will find them interesting. We just don't know which way he's going to go."
But if he's truly a homosexual animal, he isn't the only one at the San Francisco Zoo. Edell said zookeepers have seen the apes and the chimpanzees same-sex canoodling, and there's a lesbian black swan couple who have been laying eggs together in the same nest for several years.
Edell is getting quite a lot of e-mail from people who are outraged that Harry and Pepper split up.
"People think we separated them on purpose," Edell said. "There's no explaining love."
A few years ago, the gay penguins in New York that inspired the book And Tango Makes Three split up. In that case as well, one of the two went on to mate with a female. Also interesting to note that their child, Tango, paired up with another female.