First African Penguin Chick Hatches at Minn. Zoo

Updated: 03/19/2013 3:36 PM By: Maricella Miranda

The Minnesota Zoo's first endangered African penguin chick has hatched.

The penguin hatched March 2 at the zoo in Apple Valley, zoo officials reported Tuesday. The bird is part of the 3M Penguins of the African Coast exhibit, which opened in 2011.

Currently, the chick is being raised off-exhibit by foster parents. Its biological parents were not incubating the egg consistently so zoo officials said they gave the egg to a more experienced pair.

When it hatched, the chick weighed 2.4 ounces. Now, the bird weighs 1 pound and 6 ounces. It's too early to say what gender the chick is, according to the zoo.

African penguins live on the southwest coast of Africa. They're considered medium-sized penguins, ranging between 26- to 18 inches tall, and weighing 6- to 9 pounds.

As adults, the birds have black backs, faces, wings, feet and beaks. Their torsos and crown are white. Juveniles have slate gray backs and lack facial patterns.

The birds feed primarily on anchovies, sardines and other small fish. They eat nearly 15 percent of their body weight each day. African penguins live between 10 to 15 years.

Although, the ones in captivity can live up to 30 years.

Oil spills, years of hunting and destruction of their habitat have killed 80 percent of the African penguin population in the last 50 years, according to zoo officials.

Food shortages have made their situation even more of a crisis. Their food supply has dwindled because of commercial fisheries and climate changes, which have shifted fish populations away from the coast.

In the wild, adults tend to abandon their nests or growing chicks.

The Minnesota Zoo is helping restore their population.

Becky Heller, a penguin keeper at the Minnesota Zoo, has participated in the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, which hand-rear and release orphaned chicks into the wild. For her work, she was awarded a Ulysses S. Seal Grant.

More about the project can be found here.

Photo and video contributed by the Minnesota Zoo.