Galápagos vs. Humboldt

3 days before I was due to leave ORCA I was prepping lunch for the sea-lions, whilst Connie and I were discussing all that had happened since I’d been there. She said Emily you’ve essentially gotten everything you could have wanted, besides a Galápagos penguin. Next thing Carlos walks into the room saying we have a problem… There was a young penguin on a nearby beach and it could very well be a Galápagos.

I jumped onto the back of a policeman’s motorcycle with a kennel in hand and headed to the beach where I found a small shivering penguin surrounded by people taking selfies and petting it. I immediately got them away and a crowd gathered, asking all sorts of questions. With my limited spanish I explained why the penguin was here, where I was taking it and what would happen, then loaded this very small penguin into the kennel and took her back as soon as possible. She still had baby fur on parts of her which means she was only around 2 months old, she had probably just left her parents care and was on her first outing and simply got lost, stranding on this beach. After assessing her, the shivering showed to be a symptom of a slight cold so I needed to sit in the sunlight with her and help her warm up. After a while she became much more calm, the shaking stopped and she seemed quite curious about her surroundings.

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Rosie is an endangered Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), the most northerly breeding penguin species, which until very recently was only found in the Galápagos Islands, which is why all Internet sources will tell you they are endemic to the islands. However, the penguins appear to have followed the increasingly warm currents and several groups have settled along the Peruvian coastline, including on Isla Asia, where Poppy was released. Therefore the Galápagos, not native here, are more sensitive to a decrease in the temperature and need to be kept much warmer, so for this we built her an outdoor inclosure but kept her in a warm kennel at night. Because she was 1-2 months younger than Poppy she was still young enough to feel more comfortable in a cave environment.

Galápagos penguins have suffered similar threats to the Humboldt; fluctuations in El Niño years, getting caught in illegal fishing nets and the increasing number of fishermen reducing the numbers of shoaling fish. This species has also suffered other threats living primarily on two islands in the Galapagos and the numbers of introduced feline species (Felis catus) reduced numbers by 49%. These feral cats also carry parasites which can be transferred to the penguin. Another issue is the introduction of Mosquitos (Culex quinquefasciatus) in the 1980s, because these penguins are highly susceptible to avian malaria. Arguably the largest worry is that of the growing human population and tourists visiting the islands, therefore if breeding groups are successfully forming off of Peru, it will be very good for the health of the species to expand their range.

Galápagos penguins have a very different pysiology to Humboldts (Spheniscus humboldti), which can be seen clearly from the comparative images below. Galápagos are smaller in general, with adults only reaching up to 49cm compared to the 56-66cms of the Humboldt, making them the second smallest penguin species in the world. But in comparison they have longer legs and very large feet. Humboldts are also much more upright – they stand up straight so to speak where’as Galápagos are more bent over. The beak is another difference, the Galápagos’ beak is longer and slender with pink only on part of the lower beak, whilst adult Humboldts have large pink fleshy areas from their eyes and above and below their beak.

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Left: Rosie the Galápagos, right: Poppy the Humboldt

Not only is their physical appearance different but their personalities were almost polar opposite. Poppy was very sensitive to the heat, she only used people for food and didn’t interact much – she would ignore you and if you got too close or touched her she’d give you a confused look and waddle an inch more away from you. Rosie on the other hand accepted me as her mother for now and would chirp at me, want to perch on my legs and enjoyed her head being scratched – she would rest on you whilst you gave her a head massage! She’d also always be looking for food and would try to peck all of you convinced she’d find something. Now you don’t have to worry about the penguin becoming humanised, the second they are reunited with a group of their own kind they become fully penguin again, so if they are more relaxed in captivity with human interaction then it’s better for her whilst she’s here.

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At first Rosie wasn’t this comfortable though, she not only didn’t want to eat but didn’t seem interested in it at all so we had to force feed her. The silverside fish used to feed Poppy seemed huge in comparison to skinny young Rosie so they were chopped into thirds. After a day though it suddenly clicked that she could eat this fish and was eating when I held it towards her, wolfing it down in fact. Later that day the fish was only cut into halves and she was having no problems. The next day she had already gained a good amount of weight and had gained a very healthy appetite.

I kept testing her and encouraging her to eat more independently and with every feeding she was getting better. After 2 days I’d gotten her from being force fed 1/3 of a fish, to eating fish whole and often from the water bowl herself with only a little encouragement. Sadly I couldn’t adjust my flight and had to depart at this time. Because Rosie seemed very found of me we had to ensure she would allow to be fed by other people, but this now not-so-little penguin was completely fine with the change, and was now being looked over by her new mother, Liz, an intern for the whole of February. An update 5 days later says she is eating perfectly, doing well in the pool tests, becoming far more mature and almost ready for release, probably within the next week! Another penguin being able to be released and not entering the zoo, pet trade or food markets, good luck to this little penguin, a very important rehabilitation for such an endangered species!

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