Is it homophobic to split up gay penguins?
From Alex Needham for The Guardian
When Toronto zoo bought African penguins Pedro and Buddy from Pittsburgh’s National Aviary, they expected them to mate with two females. Instead, despite being trailed by lovelorn lady penguins, they only had eyes for each other, engaging in what naturalists call “courtship behaviour”. So Tom Mason, the zoo’s curator of birds and invertebrates, ended the relationship on the grounds that it was jeopardising the future of the species. Despite the impression given by programmes such as Frozen Planet, which show carpets of penguins as far as the eye can see, the African penguin is on the verge of extinction. Only 60,000 are left in the wild (down from 225,000 two decades ago), and the zoo doesn’t feel it can allow a season to go by without Pedro and Buddy’s genes being passed on.
Some were outraged at the zoo’s decision to separate the pair, with Gawker caustically commenting: “They probably wouldn’t have sex with a woman if they were the last penguins on earth anyway.” In fact, the sexuality of penguins is rather more fluid than those anthropomorphising them might wish.
Even the previous, much cooed-over pairs of gay penguins to hit the headlines turned out to be more Bloomsbury group than Elton and David. Roy and Silo, the penguins at New York zoo who inspired their own children’s book, split up after Silo took up with a female; the same happened to Harry and Popper at San Francisco zoo.
Perhaps Mason was merely preventing heartbreak down the line. Or rather, they’re just, you know, penguins.